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Where do some of the most inquisitive minds in science, medicine, education and community engagement come together to solve the toughest challenges in health and society today?

The answer: Wausau, Wisconsin.

In July 2016, the Medical College of Wisconsin-Central Wisconsin matriculated its first class of medical students at its new campus in Wausau, working in partnership with the area’s strong academic and medical facilities to bring world-class medical education and research to the region.

Why Wausau?

“Wausau has been a great fit for the MCW-Central Wisconsin campus,” said Dr. Lisa Grill Dodson, dean of the Central Wisconsin campus. “Central Wisconsin has a very sophisticated, high quality medical community with excellent clinical partners in Aspirus, Inc. and Ascension Health. Combine that with the accessibility of community and outdoor recreation activities and it’s a great place for our students to train and live.”

For Stephanie Strohbeen and Patricia Toro-Perez, members of the program’s inaugural class, they could immediately see the allure of Wausau and its surrounding communities.

“I had never been to Wausau, but when I drove up for my interview, I was immediately captured by the city,” shared Toro-Perez. “The medical school’s small class size, and the fact that I would be able to work side-by-side with faculty, staff, and practicing doctors intrigued me. I was immediately sold.”

Born in Puerto Rico, Toro-Perez knew early on that she wanted to study medicine. After she and her family moved to the United States and settled in Waunakee, Wisconsin, she went on to receive her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and began exploring her medical school options. When she discovered the Medical College of Wisconsin’s-Central Wisconsin program, she said it seemed like the perfect fit.

Strohbeen had a silmiar experience. After living in Minnesota for much of her life, she relocated to western Wisconsin and returned to school to complete her undergraduate degree at UW-River Falls. Strohbeen liked the small campus and community feel she experienced during that time and wanted something similar as she looked ahead to medical school.

“I too had never been to Wausau prior to my interview,” stated Strohbeen. “Upon visiting, I really liked the feel of the community, as well as the medical college itself. It was important to me to have close working relationships with faculty and staff, as well as develop long lasting friendships with classmates and the community. Plus, it seemed like it would be a great place to raise my family.”

Toro-Perez and Strohbeen were accepted as members of the program’s inaugural class in July 2016 and both relocated to Wausau to start the program. They quickly discovered that they would not only be receiving an exceptional medical college experience, but also full immersion into the Wausau community.

A key focus of the Medical College of Wisconsin’s program is to help ensure the sustainability of the healthcare system in the region. Its community-based partnerships among academic, healthcare, civic and philanthropic leaders aim to preserve and secure the health and well-being of families in the communities they serve. Across their three Wisconsin campuses, Medical College of Wisconsin faculty, staff, and students are engaged in more than 2,400 community outreach activities, involving more than 600 community partner organizations, all in an effort to advance the health of people and communities throughout the state.

“The size of Wausau definitely helps us build relationships and allows us to more easily engage with the community,” shared Toro-Perez. “In larger cities, students don’t get as much hands on learning as we do here in Wausau. Plus, there is a large focus on community engagement. Personally, I’ve been researching the effectiveness of local interpretation services at area clinics and providing recommendations to improve these types of programs. It’s empowering knowing my efforts are already making an impact.”

Dodson continued, “One of our goals for MCW-Central Wisconsin is to be the most community-engaged campus in the country. The way that our students have been embraced by the community is making that a reality. We hope to see our students making real impacts on the health and wellbeing of this community over the next decade.”

For Strohbeen, Wausau has been an ideal place to not only attend medical school, but also raise her family. A mother of two, she appreciates the opportunities her children have in Wausau. “There is good diversity here. It has been especially great for raising my kids. There are good educational opportunities here that I don’t know they would have received elsewhere. As a parent, it’s been easy to get involved as well. I’m serving as a Girl Scout leader for my daughter’s Wausau troop. My husband and I have both noticed that there is a lot of inclusivity offered by community members since we’ve been here."

Toro-Perez agrees about Wausau’s size and opportunities as a key selling feature of the region. “I think Wausau is a little deceiving because people think it’s this small town. But the biggest selling point for me is that Wausau doesn’t feel like a huge city, but it has all the big city amenities you want. We have the restaurants, festivals like Chalk Fest and Balloon & Rib Fest, outdoor recreation, and shopping. I don’t feel overwhelmed by the city, but at the same time, there is always something to do,” commented Toro-Perez.

Over the course of the last two years, Toro-Perez and Strohbeen have developed a close friendship. It’s another reason they both say the Medical College of Wisconsin’s program is such a good fit for them. “Stephanie and I found we had a lot in common and we just clicked,” mentioned Toro-Perez. “We started studying and hanging out and quickly became good friends. She got to know my family, I got to know hers. I now can’t image this experience without her.”

Strohbeen’s anticipated graduation date is May 2020 and Toro-Perez plans to graduate in May 2019. From there, both will find medical residencies and hope to stay in the area in order to directly impact the healthcare system in central Wisconsin. Shared Toro-Perez, “After I finish my residency, I want to practice somewhere rural. It would be ideal to live in a community like Wausau. This city is definitely the idea of what I am looking for in my future.”

You can learn more about MCW-Central Wisconsin by visiting their website.