Gundersen Health System in La Crosse will start a family medicine residency specializing in rural health care with a $621,310 state grant.
The training program will accommodate as many as 18 residents after its formal launch in 2016, said Dr. Greg Thompson, medical education director at Gundersen.
The Gundersen Medical Foundation is one of six hospitals, health care facilities and clinics receiving a total of $3.3 million from the state Department of Health Services in the state’s 2013-15 budget specifically to enhance rural health care.
The Gundersen stipend is targeted for rural patients in La Crosse, Vernon and Crawford counties because health system has many clients from that trio, Thompson said.
“Our goal will be to develop our family medicine program so we can get more physicians in rural areas,” Thompson said. “The residents will train primarily in La Crosse, with the option of taking their third and final year in one of the rural areas.”
Gundersen applied for the grant because of a shortage of family medicine physicians in Wisconsin — and the need is particularly acute in rural areas, Thompson said.
“We were hopeful, and we’re very pleased and very appreciative to get the grant,” he said.
Gundersen has begun laying the groundwork to have a designated space, faculty and curriculum to start the program in 2016, he said.
The venture will require Gundersen itself to invest a substantial amount of money, although that is undetermined, Thompson said.
“There’s also a value for patients to be able to remain in their communities and get care” without travel expenses or needing to take time off of work to go to La Crosse, he said.
“The value to rural communities is that physicians also provide jobs for others in the community,” he said. “Part of the value the state and the governor saw was the return in value above and beyond the cost.”
Gundersen has 75 students in its other resident programs, including internal medicine, general surgery, oral-maxillofacial surgery, podiatry and other specialties.
The grants earned the praise of the Wisconsin Hospital Association, which issued a study in 2011 titled “100 New Physicians a Year: An Imperative for Wisconsin.” That analysis predicted that the Badger State will face a shortage of 2,000 physicians by 2030 if steps are not taken to fill the vacuum.
The study also found that physicians are more likely to practice in the area where they complete their residency, a finding that helped persuade Gov. Scott Walker to include the money in his budget, according to the WHA.
“These hospitals are assuming a huge responsibility and committing a tremendous amount of human and financial capital to create the infrastructure necessary to educate and train new physicians for Wisconsin,” said WHA President Steve Brenton.
Also receiving grants, and their amounts, are:
- Monroe Clinic in Green County, $750,000 for family medicine.
- Divine Savior Healthcare Inc. in Portage, $666,265 for family medicine.
- UW Hospitals and Clinics in Madison, $573,000 for general surgery.
- Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, $370,771 for psychiatry.
- North Central Health Care in Wausau, $370,771 for psychiatry.