Wisconsin growing its own doctors

Programs place residents in rural settings

Editor’s note: This is the third and final article in a series provided by ThedaCare about the physician shortage in rural Wisconsin.

Wisconsin has long had a tradition of raising its own doctors, yet attracting those same young professionals back to small hometowns to launch their careers requires careful tending.

The University of Wisconsin Family Medicine and Community Health Residency Programs and the Fox Valley Family Medicine Residency Program of the Medical College of Wisconsin place cohorts of young doctors into ThedaCare each year, but it’s not always easy to turn their heads, said Stacie Masanz, lead physician recruiter for ThedaCare.

“These residents are bombarded by health systems trying to recruit them in the midst of a very rigorous and stressful residency experience. We’ve had to get much more innovative in the ways we seek out potential candidates,” Masanz said. “No one here is sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. We are out meeting medical students and residents early on.”

The communities ThedaCare serves are very diverse, and that’s attractive. “We want candidates to look at us because our opportunities are so varied, and together with system support, it’s a great place to practice medicine,” Masanz said.

In a separate initiative, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison created the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine in 2007, a rural education program within the MD program curriculum. WARM students participate in both medical school and residency experiences tailored to their special interest in practicing rural medicine. They complete their first two years of medical school in Madison and then practice in rotation in small community settings throughout the state. Alternatively, traditional medical students complete their third and fourth years of school on site at UW-Madison.

Dr. Alisha Fahley of ThedaCare Physicians-Shawano is a WARM-trained physician who joined ThedaCare in 2015.

“WARM is a style of training doctors that focuses on integrating doctors into smaller communities. It doesn’t have a service obligation or a required specialty. It recognizes that rural health is different than health care in urban centers, and we have a chance to get out in the field very early in our education,” she said.

Fahley’s three-year residency at the Duluth Family Practice Center in Minnesota included caring for members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, many of whose chronic health concerns are shared by the Shawano-area Menominee, Stockbridge-Munsee and Ho-Chunk people she now serves.

“It’s very refreshing to work with a diverse group of patients because they offer me new and different ways to view a person’s condition and experience,” Fahley said.

Mindy Frimodig, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, of ThedaCare Physicians-Shawano grew up in the small town of Calumet in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She’s been part of ThedaCare since 2011, and finds the culture to be a good fit.

“In our practice, we respect and support one another, and we’re family-friendly,” Frimodig said. “We are empowered to develop new ideas, like the rotating hospital coverage and the timeshare model, based on our own experiences.

“Now ThedaCare is looking at what we’ve done and trying to apply it more broadly. I think that speaks volumes about how rural clinics can play an important role in a larger health system. I’d love to see more young doctors have this kind of experience.”

ThedaCare serves over 200,000 patients annually in Northeast Wisconsin and employs more than 6,800 health care professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has hospitals in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 34 clinics in 14 counties.