High Retention Rate Grows Rural Physicians for Wisconsin

WARM program admits 26 more future physicians

February 12, 2019

Wisconsin Hospital Association’s (WHA’s) 2011 report “100 New Physicians: An Imperative for Wisconsin” identified current and impending physician workforce shortages, and Wisconsin took action, expanding medical school enrollments for students with ties to Wisconsin, and creating and expanding Wisconsin graduate medical education (GME) opportunities. 

Programs at both of Wisconsin’s medical schools target an area of great need, rural medicine. The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), opened two new campuses to create more opportunities for Wisconsin students, and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (UWSMPH), has gradually increased the class size of their program, the Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine (WARM), since its inception in 2007.   

“Wisconsin’s aging physician workforce and aging patient population create challenges for the state’s health care delivery system. Data shows Wisconsin needs up to 4,000 additional physicians by 2035,” according to Mark Kaufman, MD, WHA Chief Medical Officer. “Programs like WARM help to successfully target growth to underserved areas and in primary care where there is the greatest need.”  

The WARM program has grown to a class size of 26 students. The 2018 class includes a large contingent of students from Wisconsin, but also is represented by two students from Illinois, one from Michigan and one from Minnesota.

In the rural medicine program, students complete their first 18 months of medical school in Madison at the School of Medicine and Public Health. They will spend the remaining years of medical school at Aurora BayCare in Green Bay, Gundersen Health System in 
La Crosse and Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, and are provided clinical training within their networks of rural hospitals and clinics.

Students also participate in regular core days at their sites to focus on a specific topic from a rural perspective and complete a community health project. Past project topics have included farm-to-table programs, concussion awareness for youth athletes, rural drug and alcohol abuse, health literacy and community disaster drills.

The WARM program is succeeding in building Wisconsin’s rural physician workforce. Admission is limited to applicants who are legal residents of Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois or Iowa. To date, more than 150 students have graduated from the program, and 89 percent of those graduating from residencies are practicing in Wisconsin. Thirty-five percent of graduates returned to their hometowns to practice medicine, according to Alison Klein, Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine outreach specialist. 

This high rate of retention does not just happen, according to Dr. Kaufman. “We know if a student growing up in Wisconsin attends a Wisconsin medical school and completes a residency here, there is an 86 percent chance that physician will practice in Wisconsin.”  

Wisconsin medical schools are increasing enrollments and targeting areas of greatest need, and WHA-championed graduate medical education (GME) grant programs administrated by the Department of Health Services (DHS) are creating new residency opportunities in Wisconsin.  

WHA CEO Eric Borgerding is encouraged by the track record WARM is building. “We’ve struck the right path, and it is shaping up to be a successful public-private model,” said Borgerding. “With 89% of WARM physicians practicing in Wisconsin, WARM is exceeding the 86% equation. Well done! Now we need to keep building on this success.”

This story originally appeared in the February 12, 2019 edition of WHA Newsletter