'Closer to Home': MCW Graduate Thankful for Opportunity to Train in Hometown of Wausau

‘Closer to home’: MCW graduate thankful for opportunity to train in hometown of Wausau

Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) graduate Ryan Gassner compares attending medical school to trying to drink water out of a firehose.

“It’s hard for anybody,” he says.

Thankfully for Gassner, he had a strong support system to help him get through that journey – his hometown.

Born and raised in the central Wisconsin town of Wausau, Gassner chose to keep his talents in the area, attending medical school at MCW-Central Wisconsin.

Ryan Gassner, MCW-Central Wisconsin White Coat Ceremony“I thought being close to home and being around friends and family would be a big support to have going through medical school,” he says.

Gassner says staying in Wausau allowed him to spend weekends fishing with his dad and spending time with him and his grandfather as they got older.

He also had the unique opportunity to treat individuals he knew growing up and had knowledge on local resources that he could direct them to, such as warming shelters and food pantries. Gassner also learned more about his hometown, including services it offers that he didn’t know were available.

“I was interested in finding out if there was a medically assisted opioid addiction treatment center in the community because I’d never heard of one,” he says. “Turns out there was.”

Gassner conducted a survey on the treatment center as part of his studies at MCW. He found that less than 10 percent of clients had been referred there by a primary care provider and 90 percent would recommend it to others. Gassner says the research helped him approach the issue of opioid addiction as a medical condition rather than as a criminal matter.

Staying Local for Medical School

You could almost say that Gassner has medicine in his blood. His father is a businessman and his mother a cardiac ICU nurse at a Wausau hospital. She spoke with Gassner often about her day-to-day experiences treating patients who were critically ill after heart surgeries or cardiac arrest, piquing his interest in medicine. He joined her there as a certified nursing assistant, learning what she did daily while treating some of the same patients.

“We would talk about what she was seeing, and she would teach me a lot of things from the nursing perspective,” Gassner says. “It was rewarding, and my mom and I grew a lot closer as I got into medicine.”

That experience helped cement his feeling that medicine was the right path for him.

“I just loved the environment and was able to listen in on the physicians talking about the management of different patients,” Gassner says. “I just remember thinking to myself, that’s what I want to do one day.”

Ryan Gassner and Wausau Treatment Center

The next leg of his journey would take him to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he took the pre-med route and majored in biology. During his time there he also studied abroad in Tanzania, working with kids and teenagers who were HIV positive.

“I helped teach them about safe sex practices and the truths and myths about HIV transmission,” he says.

In Madison, he also conducted a bench research project on a new treatment for sickle cell disease and clinical research with the Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire looking at antibiotic management in acute appendicitis cases.

“Overall going through all those different things, medicine kept being the right decision,” says Gassner, who was then accepted at MCW-Central Wisconsin.

Benefits of Studying at MCW-Central Wisconsin

Gassner had not just his family to turn to for support as a student at MCW-Central Wisconsin, but also a team of mentors, including Kris Lahren, MD, who he has known since childhood. Gassner shadowed Dr. Lahren, a specialist in critical care and pulmonary medicine at Aspirus Hospital, in high school.

“I had the opportunity to rotate with him in medical school, so that was a ton of fun to come full circle and work with him again,” he says. “I’m sure he liked teaching someone he knew as a kid about the real nuts and bolts of medicine.”

He also conducted rotations and completed an internship with Bret Stysly, MD, a pulmonologist at Aspirus Pulmonary and Critical Care, and had the opportunity to learn pediatric medicine from Maria Bravo, DO,of Marshfield Children’s and urology from Chirasakdi Ratanawong, MD of Aspirus Stevens Point Clinic.

“They gave me a lot of great guidance,” Gassner says.

Gassner says being at MCW-Central Wisconsin allowed him to work closely with physicians and even see patients on his own during his first year.

Ryan Gassner, 2024 MCW-Central Wisconsin Match Day

After completing three years there, Gassner decided to complete his final year at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. He will be completing his internal medicine residency at the Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education in Phoenix, Arizona.

Once he completes that step, Gassner, who plans to become a pulmonologist or an intensivist, says he wants to come home again.

“I’d most likely move back to Wisconsin and probably be in the Wausau area,” he says. “Being able to take that training and bring it back to my roots in a smaller area would be really rewarding.”

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