New Aspirus Scholars class wants to tackle rural physician shortageSubmitted: 04/30/2018
Rose McBride
Rose McBride

New Aspirus Scholars class wants to tackle rural physician shortage
WAUSAU - Growing up in a small town provides unique experiences that kids who grow up in cities don't get. That's why six young adults from small towns in north central Wisconsin pursuing careers in the medical profession will stay here to treat their patients. 

The newest class of Aspirus Scholars were honored Monday in a ceremony at Aspirus Wausau Hospital. 

One of those scholars is Katie Willfahrt. She grew up in the small town of Arpin in Wood County. 

But when it came time to go to college, Willfahrt went from living in a town of 300 people to Minneapolis, a city of over 400,000.

"I moved away to the city because that's where I thought I wanted to be, but every weekend I found myself coming home because that's where my heart was," said Willfahrt.

Now she'll get to come back to a small town and care for the people there. Willfahrt will start her work as a physician's assistant in Abbotsford soon. 

The scholars are medical students and advanced practice provider students, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, who were given a scholarship for their schooling in exchange for their future work at Aspirus locations in north central Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The scholarship was created to help alleviate a medical professional shortage in the area. 

"This is a way for us to make sure we have a strong healthcare workforce that is ready to take care of our communities well into the future," said Kalynn Pempek, the Executive Director of Aspirus Health Foundation.

The six scholars all grew up in northern Wisconsin and want to give back to the towns that shaped them. 

"I think high school is really where the foundation was laid for my future education, Northland Pines really prepared me well," said PA student Abby Alft. 

Alft grew up in Eagle River and volunteered at Eagle River Memorial Hospital when she was in high school. 

Seeing the shortage of medical professionals in rural areas first hand is one reason she wants to continue working in a small town. 

More than addressing a shortage, these scholars want to live and work alongside people who share their experiences and be the person their neighbors can look to for help. 

"[Seeing] those communities and that small town and just how much it means to have access to a primary care provider, I want to be that person," said Willfahrt.

The students commit to future employment at Aspirus in the areas of primary care, psychiatry or general surgery.

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RHINELANDER - A man died near the entrance of Nicolet College in Rhinelander on Thursday afternoon.

Neither the campus nor the public were in danger, according to the Oneida Co. Sheriff's Office. Due to the circumstances of the man's death, Newswatch 12 is not releasing more information, but there appears to be nothing suspicious about the death.

Police got a report at 3:55 p.m. about a man lying face down near the entry drive to Nicolet College. Emergency responders took him to St. Mary's Hospital, but he died.

The Oneida Co. Sheriff's Office, Rhinelander Fire Department, Pelican First Responders, and Oneida Co. Medical Examiner's Office were involved in the response.

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MINOCQUA - Mixed in with a sea of cakes, brownies, and muffins, Sue Loeffler thought her cookies stood out.

"Yeah, yeah, it was a real production," Loeffler said of her work.

Loeffler spent the better part of Wednesday making 91 cookies for a bake sale, which started Thursday, knowing her role was an important one in drawing a crowd.

"Us Methodist women are really good bakers, so we have this reputation in town for good food," Loeffler said.

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ASHLAND - A man wanted on a federal warrant died in a police shooting in Ashland.

The Ashland Police Department posted on Facebook that the shooting happened in the 800 Block of 4th Avenue West.

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The owner of a local honey farm wants to show the great things bees bring for everyone.

Concerns about the declining bee population have been around for many years.

"There's a few different elements to the decline and I think most of it is going to stem from stress [on the bee population]," said Hansen's Honey Farm Owner Chris Hansen.

The biggest cause of stress is mites.

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The Oneida County Beekeepers Association promotes beekeeping in the Northwoods. 

It does its part to save the bees, and wants to encourage to do the same. It works to recruit new beekeepers, as well as teach people the importance of honeybees in our everyday lives.

"Bees are essential for our food supply," said Oneida County Beekeepers Association member, John Bigley. "If we lose the bees, we lose most of the food supply. So, we got to keep them healthy. We have to ensure that they are pollinating not only the flowers, but the fruit trees and vegetable gardens."

The organization is holding a class on June 1st for anyone who is interested in learning how to become a beekeeper. 

It's also an advanced class for beekeepers to learn more about bee tips and tricks. 

It will be held at Hansen's Honey Farm.

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ELCHO - Wisconsin counts "tipped" employees as some of its lowest-income workers.

Bartenders, waiters, and valets are rarely among the wealthy, but those workers could be getting a new tax break soon.

Right now, workers are supposed to pay taxes on the cash tips they get from customers.

A bill in the state legislature would make Wisconsin the first state to stop taxing them on that income.

At Koni K's restaurant in Elcho, servers make three dollars an hour. They need tips to survive.

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ARBOR VITAE - Do you know where your food comes from? Kindergarteners at Arbor Vitae-Woodruff elementary do. They have been growing their own fruits and vegetables all year. On Thursday, their work culminated in a final celebration as part of the first-ever Wisconsin School Garden Day. 

Each kindergartner was partnered with a fifth grader to help them with planting and weeding.

Organizer Adriane Morabito said it is important for young people to know where their food comes from.

"It teaches them important skills like empathy, compassionate, and kindness," said Morabito. "It also helps them eat healthy."

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