For doctors starting out or relocating, the question of where to practice is often answered in different ways.
Some who want to land the best financial opportunity may be drawn to an attractive offer in an underserved market or a less-than desirable location. Others who want to be close to family—or big mountain skiing or the beach or first-rate theater—may be willing to accept less pay and a higher overall cost of living in order to wake up in the morning and be where they want to be. "It's possible to be a happy physician anywhere in the world," says Jeffrey J. Denning, a practice management consultant in La Jolla, CA.
Still, as Denning and other experts know all too well, there are qualities that distinguish one practice location from another. Besides a satisfying overall quality of life for both physicians and their families, these include:
Besides these essential things, some locations stand apart, say experts, because they offer another quality: a version of the Norman Rockwell idea of medical practice. "In lots of smaller cities and towns, the relationship between the doctor and the patient is still very much a traditional one," says David Cornett, a regional vice president of Cejka Search, a national healthcare recruitment firm. "Not only are doctors a central and respected part of these communities, they often end up treating multiple generations of the same family." Besides the "intangible satisfactions" that this continuity of care affords, Cornett adds, it also "lowers the risk that a patient will file a malpractice suit if something doesn't go the way it was expected to."
Tossing this and the other must-have qualities into the mix, we asked a group of experts to assist us in identifying some of the best places in the nation to practice. None of these cities or small towns, we hasten to add, is perfect, in part because of the domination in many areas of the country of one or two major health plans. But for physicians starting out or looking for greener pastures, our cities and towns offer much that's essential to a happy life and practice.
The good news is that there are attractive places to practice within almost every region of the country. Many are within a one-to two-hour commute from a larger metropolitan area—which, whatever other attractions they offer physicians eager to start a practice or look for a new job, are often fiercely competitive markets. By expanding their horizons, doctors can usually do better, says Mark Smith, executive vice president of recruiting at Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, the national recruitment firm.
"If a physician really wants to be in Dallas, we can still find some quality practices for him," says Smith. "But if we can get him to expand his search to places within a 45-to 90-minute commute of Dallas—Denton or Gainesville or Dennison, for example—then the quality of the type of practices he'll find goes through the ceiling."
We begin our tour of the best places to practice in a region where practice revenue is among the highest in the nation, according to the latest Medical Economics Continuing Survey. Some of the places to consider in this part of the country are: