Thanks to a four-year grant from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the University of Wisconsin will increase the number of resident physicians in underserved rural areas in an effort to close the gap of health disparities.

The $675,000 grant to the UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health will add two physicians each year for four years starting in 2017 to the UW Health Belleville Clinic, the most rural of the four UW Health clinics.

Jennifer Miller, Wisconsin Department of Health Services spokesperson, said in an email to The Badger Herald the goal of this grant is to increase access to quality health care in rural areas by increasing the number of primary care providers, surgeons and psychiatrists.

The Wisconsin Council on Medical Education and Workforce’s report emphasized the need for physicians, especially in rural parts of the state, Miller said.

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The report illustrated the low percentage rate of physicians who either graduated from Wisconsin medical schools or graduate medical educational programs and ended up practicing in Wisconsin. Only 37 percent of physicians who graduated from medical school in Wisconsin now practice medicine here.

In addition, Ildi Martonffy, associate program director of the UW Family Residency Program, said studies show physicians typically end up practicing within 100 miles from where they train. 

“A physician at UW-Madison for residency training will probably spend a majority of their career close to UW-Madison,” Martonffy said. 

Because residency training programs are mostly in bigger cities like Madison, access to primary care and specialities in rural areas is in very short supply, Martonffy said.

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In order to improve and increase health care in rural areas, UW’s Family Medicine Residency program will focus on Rural Health Equity, which is centered on addressing health disparities that are known to specifically impact rural communities, Martonffy said. 

“Some of the gaps that exist when you are further out from a big city might be some things like substance abuse and mental health,” Martonffy said.

Trained family medicine physicians know how to treat patients in the context of their families. This means when a physician sees a patient they are considering what is going on at home as well.

Because family medicine physicians are not as familiar with treating substance abuse or mental health, they are partnering with community psychologists and psychiatrists near the Belleville clinic who are more familiar with treating people with addictive disorders, Martonffy said. 

“There is a focus in building bridges with the community and getting to know all the other support agencies and resources within the community,” Martonffy said.

This is important because it emphasizes the scope of resources already present in the community that residents may not know about, Martonffy said.

“Our goal is to train doctors who will be well-trained to provide care for patients really anywhere in the world, but especially in rural areas with the hopes that they continue living out their lives and having their practices be in those rural areas.”