Program filling the need for doctors in rural Wisconsin

People living in rural areas often travel great distances to find specialized medical care. But a first-of-its-kind medical program is looking to fill the growing need for doctors in rural parts of Wisconsin.

Alexa Lowry would consider herself a small-town kind of woman. She grew up in a rural community in northern Wisconsin but has spent the last two years of medical school in La Crosse as part of the Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine.

“Coming from a small town in northern Wisconsin, La Crosse doesn’t feel very rural to me,” Lowry said.

Some patients she has seen over the years travel between 30 and 60 minutes to the clinic. But these patients are not alone; it’s a growing issue across Wisconsin.

“Twenty-six out of 72 counties in Wisconsin don’t have any Ob-Gyn’s,” said Jody Silva, the rural residency program manager for the University of Wisconsin.

Lowry is joining the On-Gyn Residency Program at the University of Wisconsin this summer.

“We’re finally getting a little bit more of a foothold in allowing people to continue all of their training in Wisconsin,” said Dr. Kimberly Lansing, La Crosse site director for the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine.

As the only resident focusing on rural care, Lowry will spend part of the program seeing patients under supervision at a small clinic near Madison.

“This is a program that has really been built to try to recruit young physicians to this area of practice,” said Dr. Dana Benden, chair of the Ob-Gyn department at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.

The hope is that after the four-year residency, Lowry will want to stay in state, specifically in a rural area.

“If we don’t start addressing these issues now, it’s going to be very problematic for rural Wisconsin women,” Silva said.

She doesn’t have to settle down in a small community, but Lowry said she’s open to filling that need. “I really like the thought of being able to give back to a community like the community that I grew up in where they really need a physician.”