Hospital addresses physician shortages with new program

WAUSAU, WI — Aspirus today announced the creation of a program and community collaboration to address the national physician shortage and meet the needs of people and communities in north central Wisconsin and Upper Michigan today and for future generations.

“The physician shortage is reaching crisis proportions at national, state and local levels and has some pretty serious health and economic implications for people and communities if it is not addressed proactively,” said Kalynn Pempek, executive director of the Aspirus Health Foundation.

That is why Aspirus and several community partners decided to tackle the problem together to develop the Aspirus Scholars Program, a forward-looking approach that could bring as many as 62 new primary care, psychiatry or general surgery providers to communities in North Central Wisconsin and Upper Michigan by the year 2030.

Here’s how it works. The Aspirus Scholars Program will provide generous scholarships to medical students and advanced practice provider students – such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners – and connect them to Aspirus and the communities served by Aspirus during their training. In return, students will commit to future employment at Aspirus in the areas of primary care, psychiatry or general surgery.

Scholarships for tuition will range from $70,000 to $150,000 and employment commitments will range from three to five years.

John Tubbs, chair of the Aspirus Health Foundation Board of Directors, believes the program will make a positive community impact. “This is a collaborative effort to address the health needs of people and position communities to prosper from the economic value that a full complement of medical providers offers beyond the provision of patient care,” he said. “I’m proud to be working with our community partners to secure the next generation of providers to care for our families and friends.”
The provider shortage

Across the nation, there is a growing demand and fierce competition for physicians and advanced practice providers. According to the recently announced Wisconsin Council on Medical Education & Workplace (WCMEW) 2016 report, Wisconsin alone could have a shortage of 2,000 physicians by the year 2030 and a shortfall of as many as 4,000 physicians by 2035. The problem affects all areas, but it is even more intense in rural communities.

The provider shortage is driven by many factors, such as the aging population that tends to have more complex medical problems, a change in the health care model to drive higher utilization of primary care and preventive services, and changing practice patterns.

The WCMEW report recommends multiple integrated strategies to address the physician shortage, many of which Aspirus is actively leading, including an increased emphasis on recruitment and retention.

The good news is that a strategy to increase recruitment and retention of physicians has proved successful. According to the WCMEW report, 86 percent of physicians choose to practice within a state if they grow up there, attend medical school there and complete residency training there. The percentage may be even higher when an additional community connection, like the Aspirus Scholars Program, is added to the equation.
Unique opportunity for community connection

The Aspirus Scholars Program leverages the unique opportunity to collaborate with college and university partners whose programs are specifically designed to attract students interested in learning and working in a community setting – preferably in north central Wisconsin. These programs give preference to students who grew up in, or have a connection to, the region.

Aspirus is working with these high-quality educational partners to offer scholarship opportunities:

Medical students – Partnering with the Medical College of Wisconsin-Central Wisconsin Campus, where the inaugural class began in July of 2016.
Advanced practice provider students – Partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County and UW-Madison Wisconsin Physician Assistant Community-Based Tract (wisPACT) program.

Local partners

The Aspirus Scholars Program is made possible through contributions from community partners such as the Legacy Foundation of Central Wisconsin; Judd S. Alexander Foundation; B.A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation; and Dudley Foundation. The number of community partners continues to grow.

Vital investments were also made by Aspirus Grand View Hospital (Ironwood, Mich.); Aspirus Iron River Hospital (Iron River, Mich.); Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital (Laurium, Mich.); Aspirus Langlade Hospital (Antigo, Wis.); Aspirus Medford Hospital; Aspirus Ontonagon Hospital (Ontonagon, Mich.); Aspirus Riverview Hospital (Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.); and Aspirus Wausau Hospital.

Aspirus and community partners have already committed more than $13 million toward the goal of $14 million.

Michael Bovee, executive director of the Legacy Foundation of Central Wisconsin, pointed out the importance of local health care. “The importance of access to health care in rural communities is critical,” he said. “We believe the Aspirus Scholars Program is an important collaborative strategy that will have a long-term impact on the health and wellbeing of our families, neighbors and communities.”

Community partner Gary Freels explained why his organization supported the Aspirus Scholars Program. “This program is strategic in planning to address the needs of current and future generations,” he said. “Aspirus has never been afraid of big bold actions, and this proactive approach to addressing the provider shortage in our region is one that the Judd S. Alexander Foundation is proud to support.”
Addressing the long-term need

Because most contributions to the Aspirus Scholars Program helped establish an endowment fund – meaning only the interest generated by the fund will be used – scholarship distributions will occur every year indefinitely, and the program will provide permanent regional benefits.

“This will help Aspirus and local communities recruit students to our system, and then retain them with a service commitment,” Pempek said. “Because of their connection to our community, we hope they will stay for many years to care for their friends and neighbors.”

Scholarships will be awarded by the Aspirus Health Foundation at the recommendation of a Selection Committee comprised up of community members and physicians from throughout north central Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. The inaugural class of Aspirus Scholars will be announced by January of 2017.

Aspirus President and CEO Matt Heywood said, “I am grateful for the partnership of our community to invest in addressing tomorrow’s health care workforce needs to ensure access to high-quality health care and quality of life for current and future generations.