Proposed legislation could help fix doctor shortage in rural areas of Wisconsin

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) -- A bill introduced by Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay) aims to increase funding for medical residency programs in Wisconsin.

"This bill, which would increase the funding for these residency spots, will provide better training opportunities, more training opportunities at less cost for the health systems in the communities to do this training," said Gundersen Health System Medical Education Director Dr. Greg Thompson.

Thompson says there is a crisis going on in rural communities with a physician shortage in many areas.

Each year 1,000 hopeful doctors apply to do their medical residency at Gundersen Health System, but the problem is for those thousand applicants, there are only 75 open spots.

"To expand the numbers in order to meet that demand and in order to do a good job of recruiting the type of talent we need throughout the state and especially for our healthcare providers in rural areas of the state," said Kind.

Thompson says that it's hard to find doctors who want to live in rural areas and work by themselves.

That puts a strain on those community members.

"The travel in bad weather, the cancelling appointments because of travel difficulties, missing work, missing school," says Thompson. "So it has multiple impacts when patients in these rural areas need to travel a long distance to get to a medical center for their healthcare."

Doctors say most residents end up practicing where they are trained.

Which is why more students could lead to more doctors for Wisconsin.

"We have people interested in practicing in places like Bemidji, MN. Three of us are staying in the La Crosse area, many of which haven't quite made a decision on where they're going to practice. But there's definitely a direct correlation between practicing at Gundersen and residency and then upon completion, staying in the area," said Internal Medicine Resident Jordan Ludwigson.

Doctors hope this bill can help expand on the limited programs that are already in place.