Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, is home to a military base. The community is nestled in the heart of the Ozarks about 134 miles southwest of St. Louis on Interstate 44. There’s boating, fishing, hunting, hiking and camping for those who wish to pursue outdoor sports. The low cost of living makes it a great place to retire or raise a family—and there are practice opportunities for civilian physicians.
What do you like about being a civilian physician at a military hospital? I was able to move back to my hometown, and my family is here. Previously, I was part of a large conglomerate for several years, and there was a lot of micromanagement and inconsistency. It was somewhat of a bureaucracy, so I was ready to leave when I discovered there was an opportunity to come here. There isn’t as much pressure here.
What’s the most challenging part of your role? The practice I have here is a two-edged sword. I’m still busy, but it’s a different type of busy. It’s more focused on patient-related issues such as surgery, clinical follow-ups, etc. I no longer have the time-consuming collateral duties that a civilian hospital can overwhelm an experienced physician with.
I perform a lot of the same types of surgeries, such as hernias, endoscopies, gall bladder, etc. So, there’s a trade-off, as there is not as much pathology.
The environment is a little more relaxed. Earlier in my career, I would have wanted to be busier and have the variety. Today, my days tend to be over by 4 or 5 p.m. as opposed to 7 or 8 p.m. in my private civilian practice. Depending on the call schedule, it might be much later. If someone wanted to do 60 to 70 major cases a month, the practice I have now might not be what they are looking for. However, I find it very gratifying—especially at this point in my career.
Was there anything about practicing as a civilian physician at a military hospital that surprised you? Not really. The physician recruiter was open and honest about what to expect. I was able to speak with some of the other physicians before I actually signed up, so I knew what I was getting into and what the practice was like in the hospital.
Where I was previously, I wore a lot of hats. I had to be on a lot of different committees, such as credentialing, infectious diseases, etc. As far as my time was concerned, I had to split it with these meetings and my practice. They have the same meetings here, but the physicians on the committees are military. In a way, I gave up a little bit of control from where I was before. I had input as to the rules and the way things were going to be done. For me personally, it is refreshing to no longer have to deal with that.
What advice would you give to physicians who want to pursue a similar career move? I can only speak to Fort Leonard Wood. Even though it’s a fairly large military base and hospital, the area is rural. It isn’t for everyone. However, if the physician is willing to drive a few hours, they would be in St. Louis.
Although a physician can read about the area they are interested in, the number of surgeries being conducted here and other statistics, that’s not the same as coming and actually seeing what is available.
Also, I would tell physicians not to be afraid to ask questions specific to their military hospital of interest.
Anything else? I have found this to be a much more relaxed schedule for me. I realize that might not be what a young physician is looking for. I can only speak for here, as there might be other military institutions that are busier and have a larger surgical practice.
One thing I would like to mention: There aren’t really malpractice issues in the military. Although patients do have recourse and may file claims in the event they think something is wrong, in the military, the physician is somewhat protected. The physician doesn’t have to pay any malpractice insurance. I was previously paying between $75,000 to $80,000. That’s one of the other enhancements here and can have some bearing on where a physician practices and the money they can make. That’s a real benefit.