The northwest Arkansas area has experienced a growth spurt in the past 10 years; the population has grown, as have cultural offerings and job opportunities. Still, one thing remains the same: a devotion to the Razorbacks, the University of Arkansas’ beloved sports program.
“I moved here in 1987 after my residency training. Since 1990, there are 24 net new people living in northwest Arkansas every day. There is no prediction that that’s going to slow down any,” says Stephen Goss, M.D., president of Mercy Clinic Northwest Arkansas.
Goss was born and raised in southeast Arkansas. Inspired by his upbringing on a farm, he initially planned to become a veterinarian. He attended Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, where he pivoted onto a medical science track and met his wife. “The college was in my wife’s hometown, and both of her parents were professors at the university.” Goss attended medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and trained in internal medicine and pediatrics.
Finished in 1875, Old Main is a well-known symbol of higher ed throughout Arkansas.
Goss has two adult sons, both of whom were raised in northwest Arkansas. Goss says the area was a great place to raise kids and that virtually everyone who grows up in the area is a fan of the Razorbacks. “I have season tickets to the Razorback football and basketball games. It’s hard to grow up in Arkansas and not be a Razorback fan. Win, lose or draw, we’re for Arkansas.” Goss says that the University of Arkansas is undergoing a stadium expansion, in part to accommodate the growing number of locals who want to go to games.
This population growth has been great for Mercy Clinic Northwest Arkansas. “We have robust recruitment for Mercy in NWA. We still have plans for much more over the next several years. We’re becoming a really vibrant area in the Midwest. We’re the only community where they have seen a 25 percent growth rate. The closest place to that, in terms of growth, is Austin, Texas,” says Goss. In fact, Fayetteville’s growth appears to mirror the transformation that Austin has undergone, with new housing developments, more restaurants and young professionals moving there every day.
“Our town used to have a small-town feel, but now there are lots of new restaurants, lots of biking trails and many more amenities,” says Goss.
The bike trails are hugely popular among locals, according to Kym Hughes, the executive director of Experience Fayetteville. “The city trails really inspire people to live a healthy lifestyle. Many people are avid cyclists, and they enjoy the system here.” The Experience Fayetteville office is quick to mention the many accolades that Fayetteville has earned from national media, including Best Affordable Place to Live in America and the No. 3 Best Place to Live in America according to U.S. News and World Report in 2016. The city was also ranked No. 23 on Forbes’ 2015 Best Places for Business and Careers.
Dayna Pangle, a physician recruiter for Mercy, says that northwest Arkansas is widely known for its local economic growth. This certainly applies to her organization: “We are in the process of a $250 million expansion; we’re looking at adding 100 physicians in the next five years.”
Says Pangle, “Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas is currently 220 beds. We have approximately 135 integrated physicians and 60 advanced practitioners.” Pangle says that her main recruiting focus is primary care, and she is actively looking for primary care physicians. Mercy also has 10 clinics within the health system.
“We offer the opportunity to be part of a larger health care system,” says Goss. “Being part of a larger system lets you be a part of more things than if you were a stand-alone. We’re truly an integrated group of physicians. It’s not a hospital employment model. We have the whole organization integrated. We work together between hospital and clinic. We’re often looking at how we can solve health care issues as a system. We get lots of good traction and more robust programming as a result of that.”
For example, Goss describes their hybrid lab, where surgeons are able to perform a new procedure for the replacement of aortic valves. “Another thing we’ve gotten started is what we call our heartburn treatment center. We’re doing a better job diagnosing and giving better treatment for people with heartburn,” says Goss.
Pangle has another powerful talking point to use when she is selling job candidates on Mercy Hospital: “The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville—and the beloved UA Razorback football team—is just 20 minutes away.”
Al Gordon, M.D., is a family physician at FirstCare Family Doctors-North, part of the Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas (MANA), a multispecialty group that provides an umbrella for about 75 physicians in private practice to share common administration, marketing and billing offices. Gordon not only helped start MANA, but he also was on the first primary care team for the University of Arkansas athletic department.
Gordon’s relationship with the Razorbacks started in 1994; today he is the head team physician for the University’s Department of Athletics and medical director of the graduate program in athletic training.
“As far as University of Arkansas sports, it’s almost like everyone in the state supports them, no matter who you might be supporting otherwise,” Gordon says. “To be an integral part in that, there’s a lot to be said for that. …The relationships that are formed with these student-athletes, that’s also a big part of why I do it. I have student athletes who participated 20 years ago who are still in contact with me. That means more to me than anything.”
An Arkansas native who grew up in the eastern part of the state, Gordon headed north to Fayetteville for residency after completing medical school in Little Rock.
“In Northwest Arkansas, we’re rather spoiled,” he says. “There are so many things to do, whether you’re a music, art or sports enthusiast. It’s just one of those kinds of areas, and we’re fortunate to have that.”
Another employment option for physicians looking in northwest Arkansas in the Fayetteville Diagnostic Clinic, also part of MANA. The Fayetteville Diagnostic Clinic offers a wide spectrum of specialties at one location, including internal medicine, gastroenterology, rheumatology and sleep medicine.
Or, consider Washington Regional Medical Center, a nonprofit hospital in Fayetteville that’s part of the locally governed health system Washington Regional. The system also operates several specialty clinics in the northwest Arkansas area.
“This is an area where there is a lot of opportunity, and we are recruiting a lot,” says Goss. “A lot of people think, ‘Arkansas?’ But they owe it to themselves to do a little research and see all that we have to offer. It’s a very unique place. We have a nice regional airport, and we’re well-located geographically. We’re not that far if you want to take a drive to Dallas, St. Louis or Tulsa. We have a great public school system, all four seasons, and lots of outdoor activities. It’s a great community, it has good people, and it’s a good place to grow your life.”
Says Gordon: “I like to visit areas all around this great country, but I’m always glad to be going home.”