LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) -

Wisconsin may see a shortage of 4,000 doctors in the 20 years, which is a loss of about 25 percent

But a program in La Crosse is aiming to change that.

At UWL, the Physician Assistant Program is transforming Wisconsin's health care system. Because more than 90 percent of graduates from UWL's Physician Assistant Program, stay within the tri-state area to practice medicine.

"The physician assistant is considered to be capable of performing about 80 percent of what a family practice physician can perform, they can diagnose, they can evaluate, treat write prescriptions do minor surgeries and they can really fill a void," said Sandy Seick, UWL's Physician Assistant Program director.

In the 1960's, the profession was originally created to help when there was a shortfall of doctors. But now, officials say having physician assistants is just as crucial as having medical doctors.

"The physician assistant is just such a nice compliment to the physician, the physician has a set of skills, the physician's assistant has a set of skills and together they can really provide a full scope of services to whatever that patient and their family needs," said Amy Noel, vice president of surgery and diagnostics care at Mayo Health System.

If graduates from UWL's Physician Assistant Program continue to stay and practice in the state, the shortfall could decrease.

"For us it is nice being if you do graduate from the program, you already have great connections with Mayo Clinic as well as Gundersen which are the two rotational sites that we utilize," said  Ivy Heims, a former graduate of the program and a family practice PA at Mayo Health System in Onalaska.

About a third of last year's graduates from the program stayed in La Crosse, providing an added benefit.

"PA's and nurse practitioners are filling that void that we need," said Heims.

UWL'S PA program currently has a 100 percent pass rate on the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam.

Every two years the program receives 400 applications but only 19 applicants are accepted.