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.