Kevin Jacobson is a loan assistance program manager for the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health.
Years in position: 12
Originally from: Madison, Wisconsin
Date of interview: January 30, 2020
Tell me about your current position.
Wisconsin has two loan assistance programs that reward money to healthcare providers in return for committing to work for three years in underserved areas—rural and urban. Dentists, physicians, nurse practitioners, PAs, and midwives are all eligible. I manage the whole application process from beginning to end. Meanwhile, I have other people going through the system from previous years, so I make sure they are complying with program requirements. There are federal reporting requirements as well.
I also work on a community health grant program. We have several out now, addressing obesity and substance abuse. We do quite a bit of work with EMS: I manage training programs for leaders. We also provide 1:1 technical assistance for rural services that need help reviewing protocols, patient care policies, etc. We coordinate the EMS advocacy day each year, with about 65 EMTs and paramedics coming to town to meet with their legislators. Finally, I manage contracts with content experts and community health grantees.
What is your educational background?
I grew up here and then went to UCLA for my undergraduate degree and across town to get a Master’s in Public Policy at USC. I lived in Los Angeles for 20 years.
How did you come into this position?
I had started a PhD at Syracuse University, and then I decided I didn’t want to go to school anymore! At Syracuse University, I worked with rural communities on water and sewer projects, and then I wanted to come back to Madison. I was looking for a job at the University—I had spent my whole career at universities—this position opened, and the rural focus was a good fit.
Walk me through a typical workday.
It depends on the time of year. Now, for example, I’m sending contracts back to new loan assistance program awardees and setting them up in our system. During the fall, as a deadline nears, I have a lot of applications that I have to review for accuracy and a lot of questions to answer. Otherwise, it really varies.
What is your favorite part of the job?
One is getting out around the state. I might be gone for 3-4 days at a time each month, with shorter day trips. We do site visits, going to hospitals to meet with staff. I do some research on grants if they’re looking for funding (e.g., a substance abuse project). I enjoy getting out to do presentations on our loan assistance programs. I also meet with our community health grantees each year.
Finally, sending out award letters to applicants. They can get up to $100,000 dollars—that can really change somebody’s life.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Sending out the letters to people who don’t get awards. They have to write personal essays about why they want to work with a community. They have great stories and they’re really committed to doing this work, but we only have so much money.
Do you remain in touch with people who finish the program?
We recently started doing follow-up surveys, and we found that a good percentage have remained. Our goal is to recruit providers to underserved areas and to retain them.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?
I enjoy reading. My family—my sister, niece, and nephews, and my father and I—are competitive board game players. I like to cook and try new things, and I like to hike. There’s a great place south of Lodi, a state natural area that isn’t improved, but which has trails.
Share one fact about yourself that your coworkers might not know about you.
I’ve been here 12 years, so I have to think about this a bit! I did hike to the tallest waterfall in North America—Yosemite falls—back in the early 1990s.
— Interview conducted, condensed, and edited by Laurie Silverberg, PhD