Thursday, February 14, 2013--6:20p.m.
MADISON--Pediatric Resident Gena Cooper said before the WARM program--the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine--she was a student without a home: "I had a very strong interest in medicine and an equally strong interest in serving the needs of rural Wisconsin, but I couldn't find a way to bring those two together," she said.
The first crop of WARM students started in August of 2007; Dr. Cooper was a member of the second class. As part of the program, she spent time in smaller communities during her third and fourth years of medical school. "I spent my time in Northern Wisconsin," she said. "I spent quite a bit of my time there working with the physicians in the community, the community members and providing care."
The goal of the WARM program is to increase the availability of physicians in the rural parts that need them most. "There is incredible unmet need, incredible," said Dr. Robert Golden, the dean of the School of Medicine and Public Health. "Folks living in rural Wisconsin and around the country tend to be older than the general population, they tend to have less access to health care and they tend to have more of a health burden," he said. "Oftentimes because they have less access."
Dean Golden said the program started--deliberately--with a small number of students. They've since ramped it up to its current level of 25 a year. "With the new support from the governor's budget, we haven't worked through the exact numbers, but we anticipate a substantial increase in the number of students coming into the program," he said. "As well as the enhancements and the financial support for the students all the students that are enrolled in it."
He said the investment will lead to dramatic changes in health care access--and outcomes--for the people of Wisconsin.
Dr. Cooper said WARM graduates are already picking specialties and residencies to help meet the need. "Things like family practice, pediatrics and even orthopedic surgery to replace the hips on all those old dairy farmers, that's what we're seeing be a success through this program," she said.