Husband-and-wife physicians Brandon Hankey, M.D., and Kelsey Schultz, M.D., needed to think strategically as they searched for jobs during their second year of residency at Michigan State University in Grand Rapids. Hankey had chosen a specialization in emergency medicine, and Schultz had chosen family medicine. Naturally, they needed to make sure they ended up in the same city. They both received offers from St. Luke’s Health Care System in Duluth, Minnesota, and by both physicians’ accounts, the situation has been more than ideal.
“When we were looking for jobs, we wanted a great mix of pleasant people but also an environment that was still busy and professionally challenging. We wanted a future-minded city. Duluth was perfect for us. I would put Duluth in the same list as Asheville, North Carolina; Burlington, Vermont; and Ithaca, New York. It’s a city that’s the right size but really unique,” says Hankey.
“Duluth is 80,000 people, which is big enough to have a busy Level II trauma center with all the challenges I want for my career. You see a nice mix of people from the city and people from the country, especially those who work in the timber and mining industries. You see a great cross-section of people,” says Hankey, who works in the emergency room at St. Luke’s Hospital, a 267-bed facility.
Schultz agrees, saying, “I have a really wide scope of practice. I work in Two Harbors, Minnesota. I have a rural family practice, both inpatient and outpatient, that affords me a lot of variety. I like the huge variety of practice. It’s a wonderful patient population as well. They’re really grounded, down-to-earth people. You get a lot of interesting pathology and pleasant people overall.”
Schultz’s practice is in a more rural area, but the commute is easy. And Duluth is a comfortable place to live. Hankey and Schultz just closed on their first home in Duluth, a six-bedroom Victorian house. Hankey says this is small by Duluth standards. Other houses in their neighborhood have up to 14 bedrooms.
Hankey shares an interesting bit of Duluth trivia: “At the turn of the 20th century, Duluth had more millionaires per capita than any city on earth.” Schultz adds, “It has a lot of beautiful Victorian architecture. The homes and neighborhoods in Duluth are just beautiful.”
Meghan Anderson, a physician recruiter for St. Luke’s Health Care, says, “As far as the city goes, there is definitely a personality type that is attracted to Duluth. There is a big outdoorsy community. Of course, we have hunting and fishing and things you would picture for north Minnesota, but we also have a big running scene, a mountain biking scene and a big hiking scene. People who live here like to be outdoors and be active. They’re hiking and camping even in the winter. People do it all year long.”
Schultz says, “Once you set foot in Duluth, you realize it’s a special place. It’s worth the winter. Something people say is, ‘The cold seals in the freshness.’”
“In 2014, we were ranked the No. 1 outside city by Outside magazine. That really speaks to the lifestyle and to the recognition of the fact that there’s a diversity of outdoor offerings,” says Anna Tanski, president of Visit Duluth. “It’s not just skiing. People take in all that Lake Superior has to offer.” She says that paddleboarding, canoeing and kayaking tend to be the most popular water sports. She also says that Lake Superior influences the culture beyond recreation activities.
“I’m a lifelong resident here, and our life is centered around Lake Superior,” says Tanski. “It is focused on the outdoors. It’s ingrained in part of our culture, and it creates an active community.”
While Duluth has a tight-knit population of 86,000, the city’s role as a health care hub draws a much larger patient population from surrounding areas. Anderson says that figure is closer to 450,000, explaining, “People drive a long way to get their health care. If you look at where we are on the map, we are on the tip of Lake Superior, so there’s not much between here and the Canadian border. We see a lot of patients from Wisconsin and from the upper area of Michigan.”
To serve this diverse group, St. Luke’s Hospital stays current with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities. “The most notable thing is that we just completed an expansion to our surgery center,” says Anderson. “We just built a bunch of ORs. We also built a hybrid operating room. That just opened in August of 2015. Everything that the physician uses, everything comes down from the ceiling; there’s nothing on the floor. We have a da Vinci robot, and a dedicated operating room for the da Vinci robot. We also have dedicated ORs for open heart surgery and neurosurgery.”
Hankey says another advantage to working at St. Luke’s is the friendliness of the hospital staff. “Duluth is the classic ‘Minnesota nice.’ This is the most pleasant, professional staff I’ve ever been lucky enough to work with. The people make Duluth a great place.”
St. Luke’s Health Care System also has primary care clinics throughout the region, including the one in Two Harbors where Schultz works.
Essentia Health is another of Duluth’s major health care players.
“Physicians are vey much attracted to Essentia Health,” says Kris Olson, vice president of physician and professional services. “We are a physician-led organization, so there’s a really strong focus on keeping the patient and the family a priority.”
More than 800 physicians—and 13,000 total employees—help Essentia address the changing needs of health care through 68 clinics and 15 hospitals throughout the Upper Midwest.
“If you’re a high-end specialist, you can participate in the architecture of that program and have a direct say in what takes place,” Olson says. “You’ll be involved in the programming, the operations, and the understanding of what we do.”
In Duluth, it’s possible to find a successful work/life balance.
“It’s a really neat, four-season, multifaceted location,” Olson says. “You get the opportunity to work and play in the same place. …It’s fun to recruit to Duluth. It’s really the icing on the cake.”