Future docs learn what’s needed to keep ag workers healthy

Agriculture is dangerous occupation. When it comes to health and safety risks, farmers are in the top ten. But when it comes to access to doctors, they fall short. According to a recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal, 68 percent of the communities with federally designated doctor shortages are in rural areas. John Shutske and Cheryl Skjolaas are working to chip away at both statistics.

The two recently led educational sessions, including a tour of the Arlington Ag Research Station, for students in the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine (WARM). They encouraged the students to think about the range of issues and opportunities they will encounter in their future practice.

Shutske is CALS Associate Dean for Extension and Outreach Programs. Skjolaas is a Senior Outreach Specialist in the CALS and UW Extension Center for Agricultural Safety and Health.

The WARM program, headquartered in the School of Medicine and Public Health is focused on increasing the number of physicians and other health professionals committed to serving in rural Wisconsin communities.

Shutske provided a lecture and discussion to help students understand the important risk factors that effect vulnerable populations including children, immigrant workers, older farmers, and people with disabilities who work in agriculture. His past work was focused on issues of injury epidemiology and design of workplaces, equipment, and educational programs to make farms and food processing facilities safer. This included an in-depth discussion of ways in which doctors and other health professionals can best advise patients on safe and healthful behaviors and practices.

The second session included a field trip to the Arlington dairy facility at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station. Mike Peters, Herd Manager at Arlington with Dairy Science provided a detailed tour along with Shutske and Skjolaas demonstrating and providing detailed information to the students. For many, this was their first visit to a farm. This is the second year of this collaboration. Byron Crouse, M.D., of the SMPH directs the WARM program.