As a young child in Menasha, Dr. Alisha Fahley remembers going to doctors’ appointments with her parents and her younger sister Katie. Katie has autism, and the family made regular trips to specialists and service providers to help her reach developmental milestones. “That was my earliest exposure to health care,” said Dr. Fahley, MD, a family physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Shawano. “I realized even then that Katie’s care was disjointed. It was frustrating for my parents to keep all of her services organized and her doctors and therapists in touch with one another. Now, as a family doctor, that’s one of my biggest responsibilities—to coordinate patient care. The electronic medical record has helped a lot.”
Dr. Fahley is a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin Medical School. She elected to participate in the second graduating class of the medical school’s Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine (WARM) program. WARM medical students complete their first two years of medical school in Madison and then practice in rotation in small community settings throughout the state. Alternatively, traditional medical students complete their third and fourth years of school on site at UW-Madison.
“WARM is a style of training doctors that focuses on integrating physicians into smaller communities. It doesn’t have a service obligation or a required specialty. It recognizes that rural health is different than health care in urban centers, and we have a chance to get out in the field very early in our education,” said Dr. Fahley. Based near La Crosse for her first training assignment, Dr. Fahley helped complete a community health project in Whitehall, Wis., that studied the prevalence and effects of exercise-induced asthma in middle school students. Interestingly, she also cared for residents in an assisted living facility—the same facility where she lived during her training. Her apartment was amongst the other residents’ apartments, and she enjoyed many coffee klatches with her elderly neighbors. “It was quiet and convenient alternative for housing medical students from out of town, especially because it was right across from the hospital,.” she said.
After graduation from medical school, Dr. Fahley’s three-year residency was at the Duluth Family Practice Center in Minnesota. She fine-tuned her training in delivering babies, performing C-sections, and a broad variety of inpatient hospital care. “In Shawano, we are lucky to have several general practitioners who still deliver babies. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job.”
Also in Duluth, Dr. Fahley met and cared for members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, many of whose chronic health concerns are shared by the Shawano-area Menominee, Stockbridge-Munsee and Ho-Chunk people. “I find it very refreshing to work with native peoples because they offer me new and different ways to view a person’s condition and experience,” she said.
Dr. Fahley bought a house in Shawano shortly after accepting her job with ThedaCare Physicians. She spends her time cooking and baking her way through interesting cookbooks and is contemplating her first dinner party menu for her new house. “I used to have them (dinner parties) at my house in Duluth all the time.” A self-described “nerd,” her other interests have always included reading, knitting, and playing clarinet, including in a Madison group composed of musical med students called “Coda Blue” that was called upon to play for medical school functions and alumni events. In spring, she’ll break ground on a big garden and fill some of her free time in the summer going through the shops in downtown Shawano and taking walks along the lake. “I work at a gorgeous rural health care center in a beautiful part of Wisconsin. I am so happy to be here.”