“The opening of a medical college is a rare and wonderful event,” said Lisa Dodson, MD, Dean of the Medical College of Wisconsin’s new Central Wisconsin campus. Dodson made her remarks in addressing the college’s very first class of students at a ceremony in Wausau back on July 7, 2016. WHA recorded the excitement of the entire community in 2016 when the new students received their first white coats. As WHA noted back then, the opening of the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) Central Wisconsin campus was the second new medical school to open in Wisconsin since 2015. The MCW-Green Bay campus opened its doors to students in July 2015, led by Dean Matthew Hunsaker.
This past week, both schools held graduation ceremonies—the first for the Central Wisconsin campus and the second for MCW-Green Bay. Combined, the two new schools graduated 40 students this year, 85% of whom will be going into primary care. This is good news for the overall physician workforce.
The impetus for the two new schools was largely based on the key findings of WHA’s seminal physician workforce report, “100 Physicians a Year: An Imperative for Wisconsin.” The report found that 86 percent of physicians who grew up in Wisconsin, attended medical school in Wisconsin, and completed their residency in Wisconsin, ultimately stayed in Wisconsin to practice.
The creation of the medical schools was only one part of a multi-pronged approach to meeting the future workforce needs in Wisconsin. In addition, Wisconsin has also made significant progress expanding medical school class size at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (UWSMPH), which has gradually increased the class size of their program, the Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine (WARM), since its inception in 2007. These programs are having a positive impact and provide an important component—Wisconsin students graduating from a Wisconsin Medical School—of WHA’s ‘Grow Our Own’ equation.
In addition to increasing class size, the next step to keep physicians in Wisconsin is to create residencies right here in Wisconsin. Over the past four years, WHA has worked closely with the Administration and the Wisconsin Legislature to create matching grant funding for new residency programs and to expand existing programs. Physician education is resource intensive, and while the state matching grants help defray some of the expenses, they do not cover all the costs associated with supporting a residency or a clinical rotation.
On this part of the equation—creating residencies— we are also making strides. Of the 40 graduates this year from the new MCW campuses, 17 or 43%, will do their residency in Wisconsin, a rate that exceeds the state’s historical trend. Further, 15 of those 17 graduates grew up in Wisconsin—again an important part of keeping physicians in Wisconsin.
However, that still means that over half of the graduates, some of whom also hail from Wisconsin, will leave for opportunities elsewhere. Good public policy like the Graduate Medical Education (GME) matching grants has created more residencies for these students, and if Wisconsin is successful in continuing to expand these programs, the number of new doctors staying in Wisconsin should continue to increase. Obtaining a residency position in the Wisconsin pipeline is a competitive process with an average of ten applicants for each open position; the demand for residency positions outweighs the supply. Examples from new GME residency programs in high-demand primary care specialties highlight the issue:
- One new matching grant-supported Family Medicine residency in the St. Croix Valley with five available positions received more than 1,000 applications;
- A new MCW Central Wisconsin Psychiatry residency program created with the help of a GME grant received more than 800 applications for three positions; and,
- The new MCW Northeast Wisconsin Psychiatry program, also supported through a GME grant, received more than 1,000 applications for four positions.
“The fact that Wisconsin has 40 new doctors graduating this year from these two campuses is a tremendous accomplishment, thanks to the partnership and hard work of many stakeholders,” said Eric Borgerding, President/CEO of WHA. “We are on the right track toward meeting our goals for increasing the number of physicians in Wisconsin. Sustaining and accelerating the progress made through programs like the WHA-created GME grants is essential to this goal, so we can continue the proud tradition and support of high-quality health care here in Wisconsin.”
Indeed, the new doctors graduating from Wisconsin medical schools this past week were inspired by their school leaders to strive for excellence in taking on the challenges of health care in their communities and beyond. “Society needs you,” Dodson told the Central Wisconsin campus graduates. “We know you’ll make us proud,” Hunsaker said, speaking to the graduates during the ceremony in Green Bay. “We hope your endurance, determination and devotion are the fuel for the fire of medicine that burns brightly here today.”
Joe Kerschner, MD, Dean of the School of Medicine and Executive Vice President for MCW, led the graduates in reciting the Physician’s Pledge, beginning with the solemn pledge to dedicate their lives to the service of humanity. Kerschner reminded them that the campus was created because there were underserved areas in Wisconsin, and encouraged graduates to “do what you can to bring equity in health to all those in your communities.” John Raymond, Sr., MD, President/CEO of MCW, broadened this message, telling the new doctors that their graduation ceremony “marks the beginning of your lifelong journey as healers who will elevate the health and well-being of your communities and the world around us.”