LA CROSSE, Wis. - As the population continues to age, the shortage in health care providers continues to rise.
Gov. Scott Walker is hoping to set aside $3 million for two University of Wisconsin Madison programs that could help close the gap in rural communities.
Part of the money would go to the Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine or WARM program.
It's a program with four sites around the state including one in La Crosse.
The program is able to give students first-hand experience into the importance of practicing in rural communities.
It's a goal that's still several years away, but Ryan Lyerla would like to one day practice medicine in a rural community.
"The nice thing about being in a small community is any actions (or) anything that you do can resonate throughout the community and have an impact," said Lyerla.19832418
He knows first-hand, having grown up in Edgerton and being the son of a family physician.
Lyerla hopes participating in the WARM program will help give him even more insight into rural medicine.
The program allows medical students from the University Wisconsin Madison to spend time with patients while learning under physicians working in rural communities.
"I had an opportunity to work actively with everyone in people's care, and I thought it was really cool being able to see what a rural physician was like in Tomah," said Lyerla.
Some students also spend part of their time learning at Gundersen Lutheran in La Crosse.
Gundersen has been a part of the program for three years.
"The WARM program is really our state's answer to fill this lack of rural providers," said Dr. Kimberly Lansing, director of the WARM program in Western Wisconsin.
The program in Western Wisconsin only has 10 spots for students a year.
But Lansing said more and more students are applying every year for the hands on experience.
"It's like a total immersion program where they go out and they live the life of those doctors out in the smaller clinics," said Lansing. "They see patients, they may get involved in community medical activities and they really get a chance to live in these small towns and see what their life would be like if that's what they choose to do in the future."
And so far Lyerla said the experience has been invaluable.
"It gives me a leg up and it gives me an idea that that is some position I would like to see myself in some day," said Lyerla.
It's still too soon to tell just how effective the WARM program is in Western Wisconsin for increasing the number of physicians in rural communities.
The first group of students that have gone through the program are currently finishing up their residency training before they can practice on their own.
If Walker's budget passes, officials at Gundersen hope to increase their program from 10 students a year to 12.
The budget is expected to be finalized some time this summer.
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