Medical school program tackles rural Wisconsin doctor shortage

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 5:08 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - If you live in a rural area or have family members who do, you can likely relate to the desperate need for more health care in small communities.

An effort years in the making to bring more medical attention to rural areas is now paying off, and it starts with students still in med school.

Kush Patel and Jane Salutz share a deep passion for medicine and helping others.

The fourth year medical students also share a love of small towns.

“My parents were from a small town in India, so when I go visit there, it’s a small town feel, so it’s what I grew up with,” says Patel.

And that drove Patel to the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine, known as the WARM Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

“You notice all these health disparities in our communities, and that’s something I wanted to be a part of, so I want to instill change and provide care to communities that I grew up with,” says Patel.

The school created the program to address the physician shortage in rural areas and encourage students like Patel and Salutz to consider practicing in those areas.

“I just grew up around it, and I’ve seen the value of these physicians in the community and how they’re invested in the care of their patients,” says Salutz. “I want to be trained to be able to do that.”

The need is high.

A report from the Council on Medical Education and Workforce shows only 10 percent of Wisconsin physicians practice in rural areas, yet that’s where one-fifth of the population lives.

In Northeast Wisconsin, Kewaunee and Chilton top the list for the biggest deficit of providers in the next 15 years.

“As health care changes even locally here in Green Bay, we see people traveling further and further to come to our facilities because in their smaller hometowns, they don’t have much. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll have a clinic, and it can’t provide all the services that are needed,” says Dr. Ryan Murphy, an emergency medicine physician with BayCare Clinic. “It’s harder and harder to find physicians to go to these small clinics. Hopefully with this program, we can expose students to the smaller rural areas and what they have to offer and show them that rural medicine is a great opportunity. It can be a little bit scary, because you’re out there by yourself, but you have backup and resources, and that’s kind of the goal of the program.”

Dr. Murphy has seen the benefits of the WARM program.

Doctors who went through it years ago are trading in big-city life for smaller communities.

“It helps us recruit physicians as well. Even with the size of Green Bay that it is, it’s still hard to recruit physicians here,” says Murphy. “Unless you have a strong draw to the Green Bay area, maybe family, it’s hard to get people to come back, and this is one opportunity or one way to do that.”

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