Live & Practice

By Liz Funk | Live & Practice | Spring 2018

 

A small population size can mean a tight-knit community, even if residents hail from far-flung places. Locals from the communities on this list pride themselves on being welcoming to others, ready to share in the abundant natural wonders and cultural offerings that epitomize their corners of the world. If you explore any of these gems, know that many a tourist have visited and declared, “I never want to leave!”

Sedona, Arizona

In Sedona, Arizona, locals are surrounded by spectacular natural beauty, including the iconic red rock formations often featured on postcards from the area. Physicians in Sedona often have opportunities to establish relationships with their patients. The patient population is comprised of residents (many of whom enjoy active lifestyles year-round, thanks to Sedona’s mild climate), as well as tourists and outdoor adventurists drawn to the region.

Many residents of Sedona are transplants from other parts of the country. Blame “red rock fever” for this: People come for vacation, fall in love with the area’s stunning natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor recreation, and decide to make Sedona home.

Ed Eppler, M.D., an emergency medicine physician who attended the University of Washington School of Medicine and completed his residency at Indiana University School of Medicine, landed in the small city of Sedona after deciding to become a traveling locum tenens physician. In addition to working on his own, Eppler also worked with the staffing agency Envision Physician Services, which placed him in Sedona for one of his first assignments.

“It has been over-the-top awesome,” says Eppler. “Envision has tremendous opportunities, and they make it relatively easy for physicians to navigate through licensing, credentialing and scheduling.”

In Sedona, Envision Physician Services operates Verde Valley Medical Center, a free-standing emergency department. The Cottonwood campus of Verde Valley Medical Center, also operated by Envision, is just a short distance away, and is a Level IV trauma center. On the Sedona campus, which has laboratory, radiology, orthopedics and primary care outpatient clinics, in addition to the emergency department, physicians also have access to a TeleStroke program, through which patients can be remotely “seen” by a neurologist from the Mayo Clinic.

Though the Sedona campus emergency department has only four treatment rooms with five beds, according to Envision Physician Services Recruiter Anthony Martinez, there is no shortage of excellent care at the facility. In the category of overall quality of care, the facility “consistently ranks above the 90th percentile from Professional Research Consultants, Inc.”

There is also no shortage of exciting employment opportunities. Envision actively recruits board-certified or board-eligible physicians in emergency medicine, family practice and internal medicine for the emergency department on the Sedona campus. According to Martinez, the staffing agency offers a variety of opportunities across more than 1,000 centers, including full-time employment, independent contracting, and locums capabilities, which is how Eppler found Envision, and subsequently, Sedona.

When Martinez speaks to prospective candidates for the Sedona campus, he emphasizes that the lower-volume environment (in comparison to highly trafficked urban medical centers) allows for stronger relationships between physicians and their patients—not to mention the high quality of care physicians can provide to each person who walks through the medical center’s doors.

With a median age of 57 among the core population, plus an estimated 3 million tourists exploring the area each year, physicians play a critical role in keeping both local and visiting populations healthy and safe.

Staying healthy is important to residents and visitors alike, who take every opportunity to explore the outdoor splendor Sedona offers. “There is so much to do on the land,” says Jennifer Wesselhoff, President/CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. “Hiking, biking, mountain biking, meditation. We joke that God made the Grand Canyon, but he lives in Sedona. It’s true!”

While many people visit the Grand Canyon’s rim to check it off their bucket list, Wesselhoff says Sedona is more accessible for exploring. “You can get into the rocks and land pretty easily and be immediately hiking and biking.”

Many people also gravitate to Sedona to experience its mediation and spiritual offerings, as Sedona was considered sacred land for Native Americans, according to Wesselhoff. The town offers meditation and spiritual retreats and world-class wellness spas quietly tucked alongside institutions steeped in small-town charm. The most meditative activity is sometimes as simple as stepping outdoors for a few moments.

“When you’re surrounded by beauty and nature, it puts everything in perspective,” says Wesselhoff.

In addition to attracting top medical talent, the area also has a vibrant community of entrepreneurs and other professionals who have made a conscious decision to move to Sedona. “People who live here absolutely want to be here and love it,” says Wesselhoff, nodding to the sense of community and sense of place that are both vital aspects of the Sedona experience. “You can really create that here,” she says. “It’s hard to do in a big place. It’s easy to get lost. But in Sedona, it’s easy to make a difference. That’s what I love about it. One person in Sedona can make a tremendous impact.”

Eppler, for his part, has found a rewarding professional experience at Verde Valley Medical Center, while also enjoying the richness of opportunities in the area. “Sedona and the surrounding area has too many wonderful outdoor opportunities to list,” he says. “It’s simply amazing.” He says he loves biking and running, in addition to skiing in the nearby town of Flagstaff, and enjoying the incredible scenery, culture and restaurants.

To put it simply, Eppler says, “What’s not to love?”

Traverse City, Michigan

Traverse City, Michigan, isn’t on the way to anywhere—and that is why people love it. The small city, which has a year-round population of 15,000, boasts an undeniable sense of community. Residents take pride in the area’s stunning beaches, green vineyards, charming downtown district and ample cultural activities. Physicians will find a state-of-the-art nonprofit regional referral center, and families will be welcomed into a friendly, thriving community.

Locals of Traverse City, which is located on the shores of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, enjoy a four-season paradise that offers something for everyone.

There are opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, golfing, skiing and snowshoeing, plus an extraordinary range of dining and wine and beer tasting options. It has a healthy tourism industry that peaks the first week of July, when the National Cherry Festival celebrates Traverse City’s title as Cherry Capital of the World. Traverse City has a small-town vibe with big-city amenities—and residents who care deeply about the area’s heritage, as well as their neighbors.

Kelsey Knaack, D.O., a hospitalist born and raised in Traverse City, recently returned to the area to work at Munson Medical Center through iNDIGO Health Partners. Her husband, Joel, is also a hospitalist, and she recalls they agreed upon the excellence of the Munson Medical Center. “Especially for young physicians, there is nothing more encouraging than to enter into a strong group of practitioners,” she says, adding that her partners have a wide range of backgrounds, from providing care in rural settings to working in practices or outpatient facilities prior to starting hospital medicine. “We have folks who are fresh out of residency and folks who have been practicing for 30 to 40 years,” she says. “I love it.”

Knaack says she has been passionate about medicine since she was young, though she was momentarily sidetracked with plant physiology and ethnobotanical studies while studying at the University of Michigan. After deciding she wanted to pursue medicine and that she was passionate about the osteopathic discipline, she attended the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University. Afterward, she returned to Michigan and completed her residency at Genesys in Grand Blanc. Though she was not home to Traverse City yet, she did meet her husband, Joel, then an internal medicine resident, during residency. They both took jobs within a large hospital system in Saginaw, Michigan, before deciding to return to Traverse City. When the couple started having children, Knaack knew it was where she wanted to be.

“We moved a year and a half ago, and we couldn’t be happier,” she says. During summers, they spend as much time as possible on the beach with their kids, who are 5, 4 and 2. The winter season provides a variety of outdoor activities as well.

“Traverse City is an outdoor paradise,” she says. “It’s absolutely stunning. Everything we do here is wrapped around the beautiful water and the beautiful outdoors.”

Knaack also loves her job in part because of the diversity among patients and cases. “Practicing in this community, we draw from such a wide range of areas, and we have folks coming from far reaches of the state,” she says, adding that some patients have not had any type of medical care for many years. That sometimes means Traverse City physicians see and treat rare pathologies. “Folks are under the impression that you only see those ringer cases in big cities, but that has not been my experience,” she says.

Munson Medical Center is the only verified Level II trauma center and the only neonatal intensive care unit north of Grand Rapids, which is more than two hours away. The center has 439 beds and the region’s largest medical staff, with over 500 physicians representing 57 specialties. According to Tracey Kukla-Aleshire, manager of physician recruitment at Munson Healthcare, the center has received repeated national recognitions, making the list of 100 Top Hospitals 14 times. It is home to an award-winning heart program and the Cowell Family Cancer Center, and is also designated as a Primary Stroke Center by the Joint Commission, says Kukla-Aleshire.

And they are looking for new candidates in dermatology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, neonatology, ophthalmology, psychiatry and more, including subspecialties.

When she introduces candidates to the region, Kukla-Aleshire explains how Traverse City is not only a great place to work, it is also a great place to live—no matter where your recreational interests lie.

“Traverse City offers something for everyone,” she says. “From a safe, welcoming community with excellent schools, to festivals, concerts, recreation and a vibrant foodie scene, Traverse City is a place people visit and never want to leave.”

Even with all its attractions, Jenny Jenness, media relations manager of Traverse City Tourism, acknowledges with pride the best thing about the region is the people who live there. “It’s no secret, Traverse City isn’t on the way to anything,” she says. “The people who are here have chosen to be here, and they’re deeply passionate about caring for this town now and for preserving it for generations to come. Life here is intentional, and you experience that sentiment in everything.”

She also echoes Kukla-Aleshire’s comment about Traverse City offering something for everyone. “I’m amazed that when I say this, I actually mean it. There’s something here for every interest.” Locals and visitors can find year-round adventure and recreation opportunities in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which was just named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America. The food and drink scene is not short on accolades, either, having been called one of “America’s Top 5 Foodie Towns” by Bon Appétit. With 40+ wineries and 20 breweries, many featuring craft beers, experiencing the full breadth of Traverse City’s gastronomic delights definitely requires pacing yourself. The ideal growing conditions mean wine and beer offerings proliferate, as do tart cherries, which are featured in the National Cherry Festival, or “the ultimate celebration of Traverse City heritage,” according to Jenness.

“There is no shortage of great stuff to do,” says Knaack, adding that because many of her partners have small children as well, activities with colleagues are always centered around family and are kid-friendly. The area’s strong sense of community permeates the hospital environment, too.

“As a mom in medicine with a busy schedule, it’s comforting to know I can turn to my partners and say, ‘My kid has a Christmas program,’ and they say, ‘Hand me your pager.’ That’s not always a guarantee for parents in medicine because of the hours we put in. This group emphasizes making it happen for each other.”

“It can’t be beat in that regard, as a place to live and raise a family,” Knaack says. “You can also have a very successful, strong medical practice, and it’s amazing to have that duality.”

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

“The Berkshires are a wonderful place to practice osteopathic medicine,” says Amanda Staples Opperman, D.O. “I initially followed a mentor to the Berkshires, and it just felt like home.” Photo by Angela Mia Photography

“The Berkshires are a wonderful place to practice osteopathic medicine,” says Amanda Staples Opperman, D.O. “I initially followed a mentor to the Berkshires, and it just felt like home.” Photo by Angela Mia Photography

Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is located in the heart of Berkshire County, a rural mountain region in western Massachusetts. Outdoor adventure, a vibrant economy and the farm-to-table lifestyle are all accessible in this picturesque area, which also offers a low cost of living in comparison to nearby cities like Boston and New York. Physicians are part of the tight-knit medical community, which is always working to innovate and bring new services to the area.

Amanda Staples Opperman, D.O., now associate program director of internal medicine at the Berkshire Medical Center, drove through western Massachusetts long before she ever relocated there for work. She recalls traveling through the area on her way to Ithaca College, where she earned her undergraduate degree, and thinking there was something beautiful and magical about it. “As you drive west on the Mass Pike, you start climbing, your ears pop, and as you pass over the Appalachian Trail, something seems to change,” she says. “It’s both comforting and exciting at the same time.”

After earning her degree at Ithaca College, Opperman completed additional pre-med classes at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine before attending medical school at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in southern Maine. She says she fell into her specialty, which is primary care internal medicine with a focus on lifestyle and integrative medicine for optimal health. Says Opperman, “I was originally interested in women’s health, and through experiences in my training, realized that the best realm for me to do that was in primary care.”

“Women are instrumental agents of change in families, so that was my main focus,” she says. “Then I followed my interests and what came naturally to fit my patients’ needs. I’ve found that integrating nutrition, stress reduction and lifestyle factors, like daily movement, has led to incredible improvements in my patients’ lives, and the lives of their families.”

For Opperman, Berkshire County was the perfect place to nurture and hone her practice. “The osteopathic philosophy really resonated with my own values and view of health, and the Berkshires are a wonderful place to practice osteopathic medicine,” she says. “I initially followed a mentor to the Berkshires, and it just felt like home.”

Liz Mahan, a physician recruiter at Berkshire Medical Center, says a strong sense of community within the health system and beyond contributes to the area’s high quality of care and life. “I think there’s a pretty strong sense for everybody working within Berkshire Health Systems that we are caring for our friends, our family and our neighbors. It’s a tight-knit community within small towns throughout the Berkshires and within Berkshire Health Systems as a whole,” she says. “We frequently receive feedback from prospective job candidates about how much people seem to care, and that speaks a lot to the kind of community we have here.”

Berkshire Health Systems is the parent organization for Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, the Berkshire Visiting Nurse Association, and numerous Berkshire Medical Center and Fairview physician practices. The practices cover a range of specialties including primary care, orthopedics, surgical services, bariatric surgery, oncology and radiation oncology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, OB-GYN and numerous other disciplines.

The Berkshire Medical Center is licensed for 298 beds, and has outpatient clinics and programs throughout the community, including Operation Better Start, which helps children and families prevent and overcome obesity. Community lectures also bring awareness directly to residents, and topics include wellness, cancer prevention and treatment, orthopedic care and treatment, and more. Among other initiatives, a community outreach team also provides free blood pressure screenings.

According to Michael Leary, director of media relations at Berkshire Health Systems, the organization has “invested significantly in technology,” and facilities now have state-of-the-art imaging and operating suites, hyperbaric oxygen chambers for wound care, da Vinci robotic technology for urology and gynecologic surgery, a MAKO robotic system for knee and hip replacement, high-speed linear accelerators for cancer patients, and advanced therapeutic endoscopy technology. “One of the benefits of working here specifically is that the health system works to innovate, bringing as many services as possible,” adds Mahan.

According to Mahan, Berkshire Medical Center is currently recruiting physicians for its hematology, oncology, orthopedic surgery, internal medicine, rheumatology, dermatology, ER, trauma, acute care surgery and anesthesiology departments. Similar to medical centers across the country, there is also a huge need for internal medicine.

According to Opperman, the Berkshire Medical Center is a rewarding place to work. “Almost all of my mentors from residency are now colleagues and have truly made me feel valued as part of the health system.”

Lindsey Schmid, marketing director at 1Berkshire, an economic development organization for Pittsfield and western Massachusetts, cites the high quality of life coupled with the relatively low cost of living as one of the area’s main draws. “You can pay for a house here for what it would cost you to buy a parking spot in New York City,” she says. However, western Massachusetts is still incredibly culturally vibrant, which goes back to the boom it saw during the Gilded Age, when millionaires built their summer homes in the Berkshires.

“Today, people come here to be inspired,” says Schmid. “Writers, photographers, artists—they’ll come here to pick up on that history and that energy.” Entrepreneurs, too, are vital to the creative economy, and it is not just food trucks, according to Schmid. Anyone who wants to be creative and make an impact on the community can leave their mark here.

“Everyone’s story of how they got here is just so interesting,” says Schmid. “I think because 80 percent of the land is undeveloped, it’s easier to access your creative potential without the noise of the city around you.”

Popular attractions include Tanglewood (the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCa), the Gilded Age mansions, and Edith Wharton’s home, the Mount.

Opperman and her husband welcomed their son in the fall of 2016, and they spend time outside during every season, soaking up the quintessential New England feel. “Whether we are in the yard planting flowers, hiking in nearby Kennedy Park, exploring a quaint village for the day, paddleboarding on Stockbridge Bowl, snowshoeing with friends in the winter, or apple picking and pumpkin carving in the fall, there’s always something to do in nature.”

The region also boasts a farm-to-table lifestyle that, thanks to the bounty of working farms in the area, is an authentic part of daily life in the Berkshires. “We are able to get amazing locally grown organic produce at Berkshire Organics Market, but we get out to the farms, too, to meet the farmers and see where our food is grown as often as we can,” says Opperman.

“To this day, I still learn of new things to see and do from patients, and I’ve been here for seven years now,” says Opperman. “The Berkshires has layers, and I haven’t found one I didn’t like.” That includes her experience as a physician working alongside a cadre of dedicated colleagues that care for their patients, and who are also neighbors and friends. Says Opperman, “It has been empowering to grow and develop into the clinician I am today, with such support from the health system and a true focus on patient-centered care.”

Beaufort, South Carolina

“Community oriented, patients first” is how Stephen Larson, M.D., describes the culture at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. Photo by Paul Nurnberg

“Community oriented, patients first” is how Stephen Larson, M.D., describes the culture at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. Photo by Paul Nurnberg

Charleston without the traffic? That’s Beaufort, South Carolina, a charming coastal town located on Port Royal Island, one of the largest Sea Islands. Residents take every chance they can to enjoy the area’s beautiful waterways, and the moderate year-round climate means almost every day can be spent outdoors. Coupled with numerous walking districts, friendly residents and excellent health care, Beaufort is an ideal location for physicians to practice medicine in a patient-first, physician-focused environment, while finding tranquility during off time.

Stephen Larson, M.D., medical director for emergency medicine at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, chose emergency medicine because of his affinity for bringing stability to a situation in chaos. “I like taking something that has fallen apart and restoring order,” he says. One of Larson’s medical school mentors, John Stone, M.D., was an emergency medicine pioneer, shepherding the idea that emergency medicine specialists should be able to treat all emergencies, rather than delaying treatment while waiting for input from consulting specialists.

After training with Stone and others at Emory University, Larson put his education to the test when he completed his emergency medicine residency at Alameda County Medical Center in Oakland, California. At the time of his residency, Larson recalls Oakland was experiencing a tremendous amount of street violence and drug use. “We saw very serious medical conditions,” he says. “It was a four-year emergency medicine training program by fire. That experience had me prepared for everything.”

After his residency, Larson joined a local group at a small practice in Berkeley, California, and after 10 years, started to take on leadership within the group. After that, he took an administration-focused leadership position in St. Louis. Because he was at that point affiliated with TeamHealth, the organization that manages Beaufort Memorial Hospital’s emergency department, he was ultimately able to move to his current leadership role.

Larson says Beaufort Memorial differs from how many other hospitals operate. “It’s administered and operated by a local board, not owned by a big corporate entity or large for-profit system.” he says. “We are truly a standalone community hospital. It’s becoming more and more unique.” While there are financial challenges that come with being board-operated, Larson says “we’re mustering our own course.”

As the largest hospital between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, Beaufort Memorial is busy, seeing 55,000 patients each year. “We are two to three times busier than the other local hospitals by the bigger cities, which means we’re able to offer a lot more complex services,” says Larson. Additionally, the hospital is the top employer for physicians in the area, and is very physician-friendly, according to Larson: “Community oriented, patients first.”

Zarina Manwah, senior clinical recruiter for emergency medicine at TeamHealth, adds that despite a challenging health care environment, “our emergency medicine clinicians are ready for each patient that comes through the ER doors.”

“For 35 years, we’ve provided support services, networks of communication and educational resources, and we’ve brought together a community of thousands of emergency medicine professionals to share and shape best practices,” says Manwah. TeamHealth partnered with Beaufort Memorial in January 2013, and Larson joined in connection with that relationship.

When Manwah talks to candidates about life in Beaufort, she is quick to share the variety of cultural offerings, both old and new, that make the small city a wonderful place to live. “Beaufort is filled with many historical mansions,” she says. “Art galleries, antique shops and modern boutiques dot the entire downtown and uptown walking districts, along with fine dining and quick eateries.” Plus, she says, the moderate climate means you can dine al fresco often.

“People find Beaufort very charming, very friendly,” says Robb Wells, vice president of tourism at the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a 300-year-old city and close-knit community. Many of us are not originally from here, but it was inviting enough that we wanted to call it home, and we act like we’ve been here the whole time.”

Beaufort’s proximity to the Beaufort River, an intercoastal waterway, means locals and visitors alike can always be found enjoying the water. “If you don’t find somebody on the water, they’re trying to get to the water as fast as possible,” says Wells. The annual Beaufort Water Festival celebrates the region’s most beloved natural resource with nightly concerts, air shows and raft races. Food festivals, including a shrimp festival, make summer a highlight. The region’s attractions and atmosphere are particularly great for kids, which is why some people relocate to Beaufort from Charleston once they have a family.

Beaufort and Port Royal are also home to three military bases, which train over 20,000 marines each year. While much of the military population is temporarily stationed in the area, others are located there permanently, and Wells says that many military families retire to the area after they transition out of service.

And—no surprise—lots of physicians in cooler climates are ready to call Beaufort home.

“I get calls all the time from doctors in Ohio and the Midwest looking for a way to escape the heavy winters,” says Larson. “South Carolina is definitely a desirable place to practice.”

 

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