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Training Physicians to Practice in Rural Wisconsin

Dr. Byron Crouse, who runs a program that recruits physicians to practice in rural Wisconsin, is seen here talking with a dairy farmer in Belleville. (UW photo)
Dr. Byron Crouse, who runs a program that recruits physicians to practice in rural Wisconsin, is seen here talking with a dairy farmer in Belleville. (UW photo)
July 19, 2017

ADISON, Wis. - Nearly a third of Wisconsinites - 29 percent - live in one of the state's many rural areas, but only 13 percent of the physicians in Wisconsin have rural practices. The Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine (WARM), a program to recruit doctors to serve in rural areas of the state, is having success and getting national recognition.

Dr. Byron Crouse directs the program, which this year will admit 26 students who will become doctors and set up a rural Wisconsin practice.

"Nobody argues that family medicine is the specialty in greatest demand in rural Wisconsin," he said, "but everybody will point out that, yes, family medicine is a need, but then we need general surgeons, we need psychiatry, we need a radiologist, we need essentially all specialties."

In the rural-medicine program, students complete their first 18 months of medical school in Madison at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and then spend the remaining years of med school in either Green Bay, La Crosse or Marshfield, learning with doctors at major clinics in those cities and in rural hospitals.

To date, more than 120 students have graduated from this program and are going on to practice medicine in a rural setting. Of those 120, 34 have completed residency training and are in practice, and 91 percent of those 34 are in Wisconsin. Crouse said many doctors who practice in Wisconsin's urban areas actually are from small towns but often lose their rural roots, spending their first four years at a college or university in a larger city.

"And then they spend three to five, or even seven years in residency, which also tends to be in big cities," he said, "and all of a sudden you realize they have now spent more of their lifetime in the big city than where they were growing up, and they lose some of that connectedness with their rural interests and activities."

According to Crouse, about a third of the doctors who graduate from the WARM program return to their hometowns to practice. He said the program has a bright future.

"We're seeing almost a record number of applications this year, and we've seen pretty much kind of a - I would say - a relatively steady growth in the number of people interested in it," he said. "The word is getting out and more people are hearing about this program."

The WARM program will admit 26 medical students this year; 24 are from Wisconsin and two are from Illinois.

More information is online at news.wisc.edu.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI