In a campus-wide email on Wednesday, Dean of Students Kristina Odejimi announced that Dr. Jeffrey Maher will be stepping down as Director of Health Services to focus on his family and career as a doctor.
For the past thirteen years Dr. Maher has been deeply connected to the College. From consulting and supporting the Health Center in 2008, to becoming its director in 2016, Maher has been instrumental in caring for the physical and mental wellbeing of Bowdoin students.
As Director of Health Services, Maher has been the point person between the Health Center and many other departments on campus from athletics to the dean’s office, and his reach has been felt by every corner of the College.
“In his role as director, Dr. Maher has cultivated many relationships with other campus partners, including the Department of Athletics, Counseling and Wellness Services, the Office of the Dean of Students and Student Accessibility, to name just a few. His access to a wealth of resources in Brunswick and the surrounding communities, including his ongoing work with the New England College Health Association and other key connections, has made important contributions to our community and most directly, to the students at Bowdoin,” Odejimi wrote.
Maher moved to Brunswick in 2000 and immediately began practicing family medicine in the community. After starting at the College in 2008, he continued his practice where he had previously treated Bowdoin students.
He was a consultant during the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, when over one hundred Bowdoin students were ill on campus and required to isolate. Students were isolated in the Coe Infirmary (now known as Dudley Coe), in their dorms and at the Peter Buck Center for Health and Fitness.
“They built [the Peter Buck Center for Health and Fitness] in 2009, just in time for the H1N1 influenza epidemic that struck North America at that time,” Maher said. “So, when students had the flu, [the College] had students sequestered in the Coe Infirmary, and students sequestered in [the Peter Buck Center for Health and Fitness], as they were moving all the equipment from that building to this building to make this the new medical center.”
Prior to the onset of COVID-19, Maher’s primary role was to see students.
“That was probably two-thirds of my job, the other one-third of my job was administrative: supervising and managing the other people in the staff and also coordinating care between divisions,” Maher said. “I would see students at a high level, probably 50 to 70 students a week as a provider, and then I would also offer consultation and supervision to the other providers.”
Now, in the current COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Maher has continued to play a vital role in advising the College on how best to keep students safe.
“Over the last nineteen months, Dr. Maher has worked closely with students and families to provide vital care, information, services, and follow-up medical care related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Odejimi wrote.
As a physician focusing on student health, Dr. Maher was challenged over the last few months to alter his practice to advising the College and students online.
Maher’s job for the past 19 months has consisted of aiding with COVID-19 guidance and cases and helping students return to campus life, as well as consulting and thinking about how to open the College safely. The scope of his role as the medical director has expanded as he has had to think about COVID-19 on a much larger scale than Bowdoin’s community.
“I was one of many campus officials involved in how to open a campus that had been closed, which had never happened before,” Maher said “How do we reopen it? Another thing that had never happened before.”
He emphasized that all the work to reopen the College was a team effort. Maher believes that every employee of the College did their part to make Bowdoin’s COVID-19 policy functional and adaptable.
“It wasn’t just me; it would be very much an overstatement to say that I was a big part of it. Everyone did their part,” Maher said. “It was a big community effort.”
Despite his wealth of experience working in the Bowdoin Health Center, Maher has found his work in the past few months especially challenging.
“One of the things that have been very true during this whole pandemic is nobody’s really winging it on their own, we’re all kind of winging it. And it doesn’t feel great, as a physician, as someone who applies science to real people, to wing it. That doesn’t feel great. At the same time, we’re not the only ones doing it,” Maher said.
However, Maher also believes that the effects of the pandemic have shifted the College’s—and society’s—perception of labor and leisure. He is hoping that these shifts are permanent, especially on campus.
“It’s a cultural shift to think, ‘I don’t feel well today, maybe I’m not going to go to work,’ ‘I don’t feel well today, I’m not going to go to class,’ and then follow up quickly with, ‘I should probably call my doctor or the health service whoever and check in, let them know how I feel, maybe get a test,’” Maher said. “That’s a very different shift than the ethos, which is, you go to work in school, even if you don’t feel well, [which] is hopefully over. People shouldn’t spread their germs if they can help it, whether it’s COVID or something else.”
Moving forward, Sandra Hayes will step in as the interim director of Health Services for the remainder of the academic year. Hayes is a nurse practitioner who was formerly the director of Health Services at the College from July 2008 to July 2014 and served again as its interim director from February 2016 to July 2016.
In order to smooth his transition out, Dr. Maher will co-lead Health Services with Hayes for the remainder of his tenure.