For Tien Burns, M.D., patients are the best part of working as MRI section chief and radiologist at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont. She appreciates her patients’ easy-going attitudes as well as central Vermont’s mellow environment.
“When you are a resident, you don’t really think about a VA hospital as a career option,” she says. “You think, ‘Should I go into private practice or academic?’ During your rotation, the VA seems like an insular part of your training. But when you think about it, it’s a good combination of both [private practice and academic].”
“I was surprised that the VA has such modern equipment,” she raves. “We just got three new ultrasound machines and an MRI scanner. We have a new CT scanner, and we’re due to get another soon. It’s great to work with state-of-the-art machines.”
Additionally, Burns says that the VA’s benefits package not only includes health insurance but also a retirement plan and significant student loan assistance. “The VA offers a debt reduction program,” she says. “They pay back up to $120,000 of your student debt over five years. Each year, you get one-fifth of that after a year of service. And it’s not taxable, so it all goes to paying off your education debt.”
Charles Long, a recruitment consultant for the VA, confirmed the details of the VA’s debt reduction program. He adds, “White River Junction is an award-winning facility, providing health care to over 23,000 veterans in Vermont and New Hampshire. We are closely affiliated with the medical school at Dartmouth and the University of Vermont College of Medicine.”
The University of Vermont College of Medicine is a major health care player in Vermont and upstate New York. Sarah Childs, manager of physician services for the Central Vermont Medical Center, says, “The University of Vermont health network includes hospitals in Vermont and upstate New York. That affiliation is about four years old. There was no unified health system in Vermont, and there was no system in upstate New York. These are individual organizations that have come together to form this health network with the University of Vermont being the mother ship in a sense.”
Another major employer of Vermont physicians is Rutland Regional Medical Center, a 188-bed nonprofit community hospital. “We have a service population of 85,000. We do just about everything except high-level brain surgery and high-level heart surgery. We have just about every specialty, all the ’ologies,’” says Becky Banco, a physician recruiter at Rutland.
Rutland sets itself apart with a large team of scribes. “Scribes accompany the physicians when they see patients and take notes,” says Banco. “It means less paperwork for the physician to do in between patients, so they’re seeing more patients. But it also means being able to have a conversation and give better care.”
“We have strong hospitals in central Vermont,” says Sam Andersen, executive director of the Central Vermont Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization. She adds that hospitals aren’t the only reason why physicians are attracted to jobs in Vermont.
“We have a very high quality of place that appeals to people who enjoy a lot of variety for outdoor activities. If you like to canoe, kayak or hike, you’ll love the summer. If you like to ski, snowshoe, snowboard or go snowmobiling, you’ll love our winter.”
For those who are less sporty, Vermont still has plenty to offer. “We’re strong in the entrepreneurial sector and the makers sector,” Andersen says. “The makers sector is the intersection of the creative economy and manufacturing that are scaling into high-tech manufacturing. When you look at Vermont, we’re an incubator for some pretty great businesses: Green Mountain Coffee, Ben & Jerry’s and Darn Tough Socks as well as many craft breweries.”
Burns admits, “Winter can be a little too long, but fall is really beautiful. I like the fact that the nature here is so beautiful. You get four seasons. I like three of the four.” Burns also likes the pace of life in Vermont, “It’s really relaxed. It’s safe. It’s not so hectic. It’s a nice place to raise kids. I have two young kids, an 8-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl. My husband is a doctor, too. So we have to coordinate our job life with our home life.”
Burns says living in Vermont and working for the VA hospital make work/life balance easier. “I didn’t want a job where I didn’t have any personal time left. Working at the VA allows you to have a life outside of work as well.”