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Matching Doctors with Rural Wisconsin Communities that Need Them

PHOTO: Erin Kimball, MD, practices in a small town in Wisconsin because she wants to give something back to the community. She chose the rural track in her MD program at UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Photo courtesy Erin Kimball, UW-Madison SMPH
PHOTO: Erin Kimball, MD, practices in a small town in Wisconsin because she wants to give something back to the community. She chose the rural track in her MD program at UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Photo courtesy Erin Kimball, UW-Madison SMPH
May 19, 2014

MADISON, Wis. - Since 1979, a special University of Wisconsin program has been recruiting doctors to practice in Wisconsin. Since the 1990s, when Randy Munson took over the New Physicians For Wisconsin program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health's Wisconsin Office of Rural Health, the challenge of recruiting doctors to practice in rural parts of the state has been more challenging. He says the numbers don't always tell the truth.

"If you add up all the openings in Milwaukee and Madison and Appleton and Green Bay, you might have a huge number that might be more than the rural areas, but the problem is it's so difficult to recruit to rural," Munson says.

Munson recruits doctors from all over the nation to practice in Wisconsin, and he's found that "rural" means different things to different people. Some doctors say they're willing to work in a rural setting.

"Rural to a point: It's rural within a 15-mile or 20-mile radius of a big city. Anything outside of that, though, that's too rural, and those are the communities that really struggle to recruit," he explains.

Munson provides new physicians with information about clinic and hospital environments in Wisconsin, arranges site visits, even assists in spousal employment, trying to match doctors with available Wisconsin positions. Since its inception, the program has placed more than 500 doctors with openings in Wisconsin.

According to Munson, some of the state's most beautiful and scenic areas have a tough time finding doctors.

"Really nice communities like Rhinelander and Rice Lake and Antigo and Ashland and them, struggle to recruit just because even though they're the biggest cities where they're located, with populations between 8,000 and 10,000, they still are viewed by and large as just being too rural," he says.

Large health-care providers, such as the ones in Madison and Milwaukee, may have as many as eight full-time employees recruiting doctors for their openings, he adds, but smaller communities just can't afford a recruiter.

"To them, a program like mine is almost like having someone that works there to do that for them - they don't have the budget to spend lots of money advertising."



Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI