Jeff Angileri
Jan 21, 2009, 8:46 PM

Wisconsin is facing a shortage of primary care physicians, especially in small towns and in the farm country.

It's an alarming trend that could impact healthcare for decades to come.

Amy Romandine is a first year medical student at the UW School of Medicine. She's wanted to be a doctor nearly as long as she can remember.

Our schedule is very demanding, she said. Our course load is fairly heavy. They've even restructured our curriculum to take off a little pressure.

When she graduates, she plans on practicing small town medicine -- and her skills are desperately needed. According to the Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine, 28 percent of Wisconsinites live in rural areas, but only 11 percent of doctors practice there. The consequences -- even longer waiting times, and poorer quality health.

This results in patients having healthcare problems that go untreated, become more serious, said Dr. Byron Crouse at the UW School of Medicine. They end up then having to seek care in an emergency system rather than a preventative system.

With doctors expected to retire in droves, and fewer young people to fill their ranks, medical schools are facing tough challenges, starting with cost. Education is expensive, $75,000 to $100,000 per year. To pay off those loans, many students are opting for more lucrative specialty practices like surgery. The Wisconsin Academy is working to recruit students, and make small town medicine an attractive practice.

They aren't going to be on call 24/7/365, said Dr. Crouse. They have time to enjoy the area they live in.

Plus, Romandine says, it's always nice to have a job that's recession-proof.

People are always going to be sick, and people are always going to need physicians to help them get well, she said. It's a very reassuring feeling to know that you're needed.