Graduate students share Rio EMS research during UW-Madison’s ‘Day at the Capitol’

University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate students shared research related to UniverCity Year’s partner in Columbia County during the annual UW-Madison Day at the Capitol. 

Master of Public Health students Stuart Berry, Tia Dorshorst, and Michael Elbing presented their recommendations to recruit and retain EMS workers in the county’s village of Rio on the first floor rotunda April 26.

From left, Master of Public Health students Michael Elbing, Tia Dorshorst, and Stuart Berry presented recommendations to recruit and retain EMS workers in Outagamie County’s village of Rio during UW-Madison’s Day at the Capitol April 26.

“What you’re doing in the class isn’t just staying there,” Dorshorst said. “This could affect thousands of people. Hopefully this gets spread and legislators can see that we really do need EMT and EMS work and help in rural communities.” 

They were connected to Rio through Columbia County’s partnership with the three-year UniverCity Year (UCY) partnership. UCY is the hallmark program of UniverCity Alliance (UCA), which connects Wisconsin local governments with university resources – like Berry, Dorshorst, and Elbing’s Public Health 780 Evidence-Based Decision-Making course – to work on community-identified challenges.  

This is not just an issue affecting Rio and Columbia County. A report from the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health reported in March that 41% of EMS agencies have six or fewer staff members to cover 80% or more of their calls. 

“You’re calling an ambulance when you’re at your worst, and you’re counting on less than six people in your area to come help you,” Dorshorst said. “That’s really discouraging.” 

Elbing said the Day at the Capitol event is important because it provides an opportunity to discuss the issue with legislators. 

UW-Madison MPH student Michael Elbing on an ambulance during a visit to the village of Rio in Columbia County.

“It’s really important to get out there and talk to people because that’s the only way people hear about these issues,” Elbing said. “They have no idea what might be going on outside this building, especially in rural communities. By talking to them, hopefully it will spread the knowledge and get things accomplished.” 

The group ultimately recommended three solutions for recruiting and retaining EMS staff in Rio: 

  • Creating core values, mission statement, policies and procedures
  • Implementing a high school mentorship program and mentorship program within the department 
  • Engaging in community outreach, especially in the schools 

As a result, Rio met with the local high school to discuss an opportunity to offer an EMS class to students with the goal of creating a future viable candidate pool.  

“It’s a great honor and privilege to be here. This is really exciting,” Berry said. “I’m glad to see that our project actually came to fruition.” 

—Abigail Becker