Goal: Be a small-town doctor

Third-year med student

learns ropes in Lake City

By John Weiss

LAKE CITY — Inside exam room 1 of Lake City Medical Center, Tom Coffman of Wabasha was ready for Wendy Rangitsch.


Outside, she prepared to take another step in her training as a small-town primary-care doctor. She first talked with veteran doctor Dr. Tom Witt, getting background for her to help in Coffman’s annual physical.

She would do the preliminary work and Witt would make the final decisions and recommendations.

"She goes in semi-blind," Witt said of working with Rangitsch. "We sort of tag team."

That’s part of the training for the third-year University of Minnesota Medical School student enrolled in the Rural Physician Associate Program. Although she grew in a big city, she decided to try small-town family practice. Normally, third-year students get a three-week look at different specialties such as pediatrics or heart surgery in the Twin Cities.

She chose nine months in Lake City, working with Witt beginning Oct. 6.

While guiding a student takes more time, Witt said, he can later count on her to do more basic work. And he’s always learned from students.

Witt sees great value in rural family practice and wants more doctors out there, especially in small towns. "If we don’t all chip in and do this, who does it?" he said.

As for Rangitsch, the training gives her a more in-depth look at patient care, letting her follow some patients from diagnosis to outcome. She also gets to be the first person to do many interviews and exams. In the three-week course, she might see a patient once and be the fourth or fifth person to see that patient. Decisions are made before she even sees the patient.


In Lake City, she gets to be the first to knock on the exam room door, talk with the patient, consult with Witt and observe his final examination and consultation.

Small-town family practice lacks the prestige of other specialties, such as brain surgery. "It’s definitely not as exciting for people to hear you want to go into primary care," she said.

Rangitsch, however, chose passion over prestige. "I just wanted to be totally immersed in it," she said.

She also gets to help in the emergency room. "You get to do a lot, you get to learn a lot — it’s invaluable," she said.

She even gets to give her diagnoses first.

"I always like to be moving, always like to be learning," she said. "I don’t think I would be content just to like settle for something else. I would rather like my job forever. This is something I could really like forever, to be challenged by it."

John Weiss covers news in Winona, Wabasha and Goodhue counties. If you have a story idea or tip for him, call him at (507) 285-7749.

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