Eight months after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law by President Obama in 2010, the Wisconsin Hospital Association released a report forecasting a physician shortage in coming years. The whitepaper said at least 100 new doctors would need to be trained annually to keep pace with demand.
On July 1, the Medical College of Wisconsin opened its satellite campus at St. Norbert College. The school will train 26 new doctors annually.
Next year, if all goes well, MCW will open another campus in central Wisconsin with a projected enrollment of 25 per class, according to Dr. Matt Hunsaker, dean of the MCW Green Bay campus. Currently, each MCW class in Milwaukee has around 200, as well as additional graduate students.
The hospital association report said that without the new physicians in the state, access to health care services to some will become unavailable, leading to an increase in preventable hospitalizations. In addition, the white paper noted, this lack of doctors could cost Wisconsin $5 billion by 2030.
Hunsaker said the new Green Bay campus is MCW’s effort to meet the need for additional physicians in northern Wisconsin, especially in the areas of primary care and psychiatry. He said the 26 enrollees were winnowed from 2,200 applicants, which translates to 86 for each position. Eighty people were interviewed, he said.
“This was our response (to the rest of the state’s needs), rather than create more student positions in Milwaukee,” said Hunsaker, who was the program director at the University of Illinois Medical School Rockford campus for a decade before moving to Green Bay last year to start the MCW program.
The dean lauded the Green Bay community for embracing the effort.
“The efforts here have involved the community in every aspect,” he said. “We have clinical and academic partners that are part of the program. We uniquely involved specially trained members of the community to participate in admissions interviews and work with us. We are particularly grateful for all of their time and energy.”
He’s optimistic that most of the doctors trained in Green Bay will stay in the region.
“By training them in Green Bay, that provides them the network and exposure and contextual learning environment for practice in the region,” he said. “It provides the student with that initial affinity, that opportunity to become familiar and grow into that location for a career.
“The idea is that if you train a student in Wisconsin and they do residency (here), about 80 percent of those grads will stay here in the state to practice,” he said. “The model is really one of retention in which you essentially grow your own from local students who have the aptitude, interest and academic horsepower to succeed in medical school. We want to provide those opportunities in state. It’s much more expensive when they’ve left the state to train to (later) connect them with Wisconsin for future practice.”
He said the first Green Bay class has 15 men and 11 women. All but three are Wisconsin residents, with two from Illinois and one from Indiana. He said they come from 18 different undergraduate colleges and universities, including eight in Wisconsin.
“Within that pool there are collegiate athletes and former EMTs, as well as people who grew up in cities, suburbs and farms,” he said. “They all were academically equivalent to students we admit in Milwaukee.”
Hunsaker said health care in Wisconsin is currently undergoing significant changes.
“There are a lot of realignments in the mix right now,” he said. “In the end, though, we know that health care will be about individuals who made the sacrifices of medical school and are equipped with the knowledge of science to reach out one on one to patients and where possible, (offer) cures. Where that’s not possible, provide supportive management of their conditions. And in cases where nothing can be done, offer patients comfort and dignity as patients face those challenges.”
Hunsaker said the passage of the ACA and recent Supreme Court cases upholding its constitutionality mean many more people will be seeking treatment, which will put additional pressure on primary care offices.
“Just in sheer numbers, when 30 percent of the population that previously did not have access to care accesses care, which is primary care initially, we know that provides some pressure for the expansion of primary care no matter our feelings for or against any particular provision (of the ACA),” he said.
Though recent national polls show approval of Obamacare is growing, Hunsaker warned that changes to some provisions of the ACA are possible in the future.
“Because it was created by Congress, it’s subject to congressional influence as well a presidential influence,” he said. “I think those behaviors are difficult to predict as we can all imagine.”
— By Brian E. Clark