Ask Me Anything with Vice Chair of Education Dr. Mary Westergaard

What sets the University of Wisconsin’s EM residency program apart from others?

We set high expectations for our residents and balance those expectations with individualized investment to help residents reach their goals. We are also flexible- no matter the career path, we will go the extra mile to help residents succeed. Our program provides an environment of growth and innovation. Our space, faculty, and resident cohort have expanded significantly over the past decade, and it’s been a blast to be a part of that growth trajectory. We pride ourselves on being a high-energy place to learn and practice emergency medicine.

What is something students may not know about your program?

Well to begin, the city of Madison is a phenomenal place to live. At work, we serve a unique and diverse patient population, including Hmong and Amish patients. Our acuity level is high, partly due to our busy helicopter EMS system and Level 1 Trauma designation. We’ve been recognized as the “No. 1 Hospital” in Wisconsin for the past 12 years by U.S. News & World Report, so we get a lot of complex patients and referrals.

Our Med Flight program has a physician on every flight. Interested residents have the opportunity to fly (in place of the faculty physician) for Med Flight, with expert support from experienced flight nurses. Participating residents love this program, which is optional, and many have pursued 3+1 opportunities with Med Flight after graduating.

Do you look for residency candidates with research experience? What kinds of opportunities for research exist for residents in your program?

We aren’t looking for any one certain type of resident. Rather, we’re looking for residents who are passionate and who have a great work ethic. If your passion is in research, you would be very happy to match at Wisconsin, given our research program is in the top 15 nationally for emergency medicine. Our Department Chair, Manish Shah, MD, MPH, is hugely invested in the residents, and we also have resident research scholarships available. Our internal research infrastructure is also well-established and is very welcoming and navigable for our residents.

Do you have opportunities to explore global health at your institution?

Yes! This is one of the strengths of our program. We have two month-long electives in second and third year, and these electives can be done internationally. EM resident rotators have completed electives in Uganda, South Africa, Ethiopia, Liberia, and Guatemala. Residents have also chosen to work with the Indian Health Services in Gallup, New Mexico.

We provide a lot of support for residents pursuing global health electives. For example, residents are eligible for financial scholarships to help with expenses associated with their elective, and salary and benefits are maintained. And our Director of Global Health, Jessica Schmidt, MD, MPH, is a great advocate for our residents who want to explore work abroad in low-resource settings, sometimes as a pathway to a 3+1 fellowship.

For the past several years, our residents and faculty have led a special program to take University of Wisconsin first-year medical students to Guatemala to learn basic physical exam skills and a bit about global health. We definitely encourage medical student-resident interaction!

What are some qualities that your program looks for in applicants?

We look for applicants with passion and work ethic. Passion is key for me. It doesn’t matter if that passion is for education, quality, research, flight medicine, ultrasound, simulation, advocacy, or whatever(!) – we promise to help you realize your potential, all the while ensuring you grow into an outstanding emergency physician.

As mentioned, a great work ethic is my other “most wanted” quality for applicants. Residency is challenging. We want people who are willing to work hard to gain the incredible skillset needed to give outstanding care to emergency patients over the course of a career!

Get to know Dr. Westergaard and the rest of our program leadership.