RAYMOND, Wis. — After a few years of working in insurance in the big city, Brady Dangelser of Raymond is working to return to his rural roots and his original dream of becoming a doctor.

Dangelser, who graduated from Catholic Central High School in Burlington in 2011, finished his premed requirements last spring and started his first semester at the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine (WARM) at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, a program that specifically prepares student to practice medicine in rural Wisconsin.

It took a little time for Dangelser, 26, to decide to pursue medicine; he said he was interested in it back in high school but didn't believe he had the social skills to be a good physician.

After a few years working in insurance and a sudden, devastating loss, Dangelser has decided there was no time like the present to pursue his dream.

A new perspective

After high school, Dangelser received his bachelor's degree in economics at UW-Madison. He moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where one of his sisters lived (Dangelser is the youngest of five children) and took a job as an insurance underwriter. He worked there for two years but said he knew that it wasn't the right fit for him.

"I never really liked business," he told The Journal times of Racine. "I would rather be helping people than trying to sell a product."

Then, four years ago, Dangelser received an unexpected phone call from another sister who was living with their parents in Raymond. She had found their father, Lynn Dangelser, dead.

No autopsy was performed, but Dangelser assumes the cause was cardiovascular, though their father had no history of medical issues.

"It was so sudden," Dangelser said.

He and his sister moved back from Omaha to help with their father's estate. Dangelser said the experience made him re-evaluate what he was doing with his life.

"Going through that loss, it changes the perspective of what you want to accomplish in life and what would really make you happy," he said. "I like really contributing to people rather than being stuck in a cubicle and not having much human contact."

As horrible as that experience was, there was a small silver lining: he had had a life experience that would grant him empathy for his patients, some of whom may be having the worst day of their life.

"It gives you a good perspective in medicine to go through something like that, to know what other people are going through," said Dangelser.

A country boy

The WARM program was created to address the disparities in rural health care in Wisconsin. According to a release about the program, in 2018 29% of Wisconsin residents lived in rural areas but only 13% of physicians in Wisconsin have rural practices.

Dangelser said one reason he was also drawn to rural medicine is because, by necessity, rural practitioners have a more broad scope in their practice than physicians in big cities, where there are specialists to refer patients. Family practice doctors could expand to include OB-GYN care and delivering babies or they could perform emergency appendectomies.

"Whatever specialty, you will have a more broad scope of practice," said Dangelser. "There are a lot of opportunities to find your own specialty and what you want to do."

In addition to the rotations at rural facilities across the state, WARM students also have to complete community health projects on topics such as farm-to-table programs, concussion awareness for youth athletes, rural drug and alcohol abuse, health literacy and community disaster drills.

According to WARM's data, 28% of graduates returned to practice medicine in or near their hometowns.

"In an ideal world I would love to buy my childhood home and work in Raymond and live in the surrounding community," said Dangelser.

In addition to having grown up in a small town, Dangelser's parents both came from small towns in Iowa. He remembered that every year for Memorial Day, they would return to his mother's hometown, which held a large gathering on the hill where they would honor fallen veterans.

Becoming a first responder

As he was going through the premed program at UW-Madison, he joined the volunteer emergency medical service for the Village of Mazomanie, a village of about 1,600 residents in Dane County. He came to really respect and admire all the technicians at EMS One, particularly Director Jim Wick, who received a First Responder of the Year award last month. Dangelser saw the same commitment to community that he had witnessed in his mother's hometown.

"Jim Wick and all the volunteers there contribute so much more than being volunteer EMTs," he said.

Working with them, Dangelser started to see a vision of what his future could be.

"I just want to be someone who can do the same kinds of things in a rural community in Wisconsin," he said.

But it's not the only option. Dangelser's father owned a cabin in the north woods (Dangelser also said he loved visiting the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and there are shortages of doctors in many rural communities across the state.