HealthWatch: WARM Program to Address Rural Doctor Shortage

Health Watch

There is a significant shortage of primary care doctors in rural Wisconsin, and it’s projected to become worse in the future. One local hospital is helping to attract more doctors to rural communities to help improve the health of those living there.

The Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine or WARM Program is designed to attract future physicians to practice in rural communities to help combat the doctor shortage in those areas of the state. It is an education program within the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Aurora BayCare Medical Center is one of its regional campuses.

For as long as she can remember, Mackenzie Carlson has wanted to work in the healthcare field.

“I did some volunteering in the hospital in Oconto Falls, and I knew that I belonged in healthcare,” said Mackenzie Carlson, medical student, WARM Program.

Mackenzie is a third-year medical student and part of the WARM Program at Aurora BayCare Medical Center.

Emergency medicine and EMS physician Dr. Bob Zemple is a member of the teaching faculty.

“The WARM Program was created to help address the physician shortage that exists nationally. Even affecting here in Wisconsin, particularly the primary care sector, even more so in a lot of the rural areas,” said Bob Zemple, MD, MBA, emergency medicine, EMS physician, Aurora BayCare Medical Center.

The students spend their first year and a half in the classroom at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, then two and a half years doing clinical rotations.

“They rotate in a variety of different clinical settings. Not just here at Aurora BayCare Medical Center, but in the surrounding community at clinics at other more rural hospitals,” explained Dr. Zemple, “to give students another perspective on medicine and expose them to a little bit different patient population to help advance their education instead of being in one particular site.”

The hope is that exposure will encourage students to become rural physicians, “And even help create an avenue for them to go into that sector,” said Dr. Zemple.

Mackenzie chose the WARM Program because, “having gone to high school in Oconto Falls and gaining that feel of what it’s like to be a part of a rural community, I knew exactly that that is where I want to live, where I want to raise my family, and where I want to serve my community.”

Dr. Zemple says WARM students also get more hands-on experience than they would in a larger hospital.

“Because we only have a small sector of the University of Wisconsin Medical School class, the ratio of the students compared to the clinical faculty is much lower, so you have a lot more involvement, and you’re often doing things that you may not do until later in your medical education,” explained Dr. Zemple.

“The opportunity for us as the only learners really to be able to get hands-on experience with patients, in the operating room, delivering babies, etc.,” said Mackenzie.

Hospital officials say the program is working, they have seen many WARM students choose rural medicine after they graduate, which is what Mackenzie is planning to do.

“We have family here, and I have a lot of roots here. So I’m going to get my training, and I’m going to become an OB-GYN, and I want to come back to northeast Wisconsin and practice medicine,” said Mackenzie.

Nearly 100 students have graduated from the WARM program at Aurora BayCare in its nine years of being a regional campus.

To learn more you can call AuroraBayCare at 866-938-0035 or email

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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