Best family-friendly cities to consider for physicians
Best family-friendly cities to consider for physicians

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Live & Practice: Family-friendly cities

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These family-friendly places have top schools, affordable housing, friendly neighborhoods—everything a physician with kids needs in a new place to practice. Plus, there are plenty of venues for play, from lakeshores to mountain bike trails to museums and film fests just for kids. 

With remarkable job opportunities for physicians in each location, these cities are worth exploring both for their renowned health care and their great livability.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and is one of the Midwest’s best-kept secrets. The people are friendly, the population is diverse, and the city is home to top medical institutions like Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin. 

In a city made up of 191 neighborhoods, residents can choose to live in suburban, urban or rural communities, and can find family-friendly fun by exploring all this up-and-coming city has to offer.

Familiar with the German word gemütlichkeit? It means good cheer or friendliness, and it’s the spirit that embodies Milwaukee and the people who live there. 

The city has also been dubbed “Smallwaukee” by locals, because you can’t go long without seeing the face of someone you know on the street. For physicians seeking dynamic careers in a city with a small-town feel, Milwaukee is a perfect place to land.

Kristine Cooper, D.O., is an assistant professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "I love having access to all of the specialists on the cutting edge of medicine and research." -Photo by Joe Hang
Kristine Cooper, D.O., is an assistant professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “I love having access to all of the specialists on the cutting edge of medicine and research.” -Photo by Joe Hang


Kristine Cooper, D.O., is an assistant professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin. After attending medical school at Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Iowa, Cooper began practicing in the greater Milwaukee area, where she stayed for 15 years until moving back to Iowa to be close to a family member who was ill.

After her family member passed away, she knew she wanted to return to Milwaukee. When a recruiter reached out to her to see if she was interested in an opportunity at Medical College of Wisconsin, she took the job.

“I love being part of the academic medical team,” says Cooper of her current role. “I love having access to all of the specialists on the cutting edge of medicine and research.”

With over 1,200 students enrolled in the Medical College of Wisconsin’s medical school and graduate programs, the organization is the largest research institution in the Milwaukee metro area, according to Gabrielle Pollard, Medical College of Wisconsin physician recruiter.

“In 2016, faculty received more than $184 million in external support for research, teaching, training and related purposes,” says Pollard. “Annually, MCW faculty direct or collaborate on more than 3,100 research studies, including clinical trials.”

At the Medical College of Wisconsin, over 1,500 physicians provide care for more than half a million patients annually.

For Cooper, the combination of academia and practice allows her to flourish as a physician. She says, “I am constantly striving to be a better physician and always learning, as I have the opportunity to teach the next generation of physicians.”

According to Pollard, Medical College of Wisconsin is experiencing an exciting growth spurt which has opened up new opportunities for physicians.

Froedtert, the college’s clinical partner, “is building a new neighborhood hospital to deliver academic quality medicine to the community where people live and work,” says Pollard. The organization seeks talented physicians in all specialties, but is particularly recruiting for emergency medicine and anesthesiologists.

Kristin Settle, director of communications at VISIT Milwaukee, notes that the city has no shortage of job opportunities.

Milwaukee is home to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin (one of the nation’s top pediatric hospitals), Aurora Health Care (the state’s largest employer) and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare (a not-for-profit health care system). On top of that, the city boasts eight Fortune 500 companies, adding to its reputation as a modern city that invests in itself.

“Milwaukee has something for everyone, and was ranked one of the top three up-and-coming places to live by U.S. News & World Report,” says Pollard. “It’s also a very family-friendly area with schools in the area being ranked as some of the top in the nation.”

“As a mom of three, I can tell you Milwaukee is extremely family-friendly,” adds Settle. Top attractions include the Milwaukee County Zoo, Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, Discovery World, the historic Mitchell Park Domes, three indoor botanical gardens, the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Harley-Davidson Museum.

“We’ve even made our brewery tours and beer gardens kid-friendly,” Settle says. It seems only fair kids should be invited to the party, since beer and brewing is such an integral part of Milwaukee’s history.

It’s not just craft breweries that have exploded in Milwaukee; the arts are prominent too. “Milwaukee is home to 25 theaters and has one of the strongest performing arts communities in America,” says Settle. “And we have dozens of smaller, more intimate venues, giving us one of the best local music scenes around—take that, Nashville!”

When you want to get outside, Milwaukee has abundant opportunities for kayaking, biking, sailing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, skating, skiing and more.

“You have all the big city amenities with all the feel of small, friendly neighborhoods,” adds Cooper. “I would tell physicians considering relocating to Milwaukee—welcome home!”

Homewood, Alabama

Situated at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Birmingham, Alabama, is a southern hub for health care. Newcomers to the greater Birmingham area, which includes the suburb of Homewood, are often struck by the natural beauty of the area, which also boasts a strong sense of community and hospitality, not to mention a low cost of living despite its cosmopolitan charm.

Health care is the largest employment sector in Birmingham, and incoming physicians are welcomed with open arms into area hospitals and practices.

Jay Meythaler, M.D., did not want to retire from medicine. After working for over 30 years in public academic medical hospitals, including serving as chair of his department at Wayne State University for more than 12 years, he moved back to Birmingham. He’d practiced at the University of Alabama at Birmingham earlier in his career, and the city was a good fit again.

Though no one could fault Meythaler if he did want to retire, he says he simply wasn’t done taking care of patients.

In his current role as the medical director for Encompass Health Shelby County, Meythaler enjoys the opportunity to work with rehab patients, which is the hospital’s primary focus. The facility only opened in April of 2018, and Meythaler was a key player.

Both he and his wife are happy in Birmingham. “My hospital is on the back side of Oak Mountain. It has backpacking trails; I’m looking at the mountain right now from my desk,” says Meythaler. “My wife loves it. You’re close to Nashville, the coast, Atlanta.”

In addition to Encompass Health, the area also has health care organizations like the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital (which is among the 20 largest hospitals in the country) and St. Vincent’s Birmingham (which is operated by health network Ascension).

According to Meythaler, physicians often have privileges at more than one hospital, which contributes to a nice sense of familiarity among the medical community.

“I know physicians who do part-time at two different hospitals. That was very different from Detroit. [There,] it was as though all other hospital systems are the enemy,” he says. Not in Birmingham.

Jamie Boutin, Encompass Health Corporation associate director of physician recruitment, says southern hospitality has a lot to do with the collegial atmosphere among doctors.

“Physicians connect with physicians coming in,” he says. “We’re built to be welcoming. All hospitals are kind and nice, but when there’s a community where [new hires] happen all the time for all varieties of specialties, that’s a big plus.”

At Encompass Health, an acute inpatient rehabilitation hospital, Boutin says they are recruiting doctors specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Encompass Health operates 130 hospitals around the country, including Birmingham’s Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital.

According to Boutin, most candidates at Encompass Health locations in Birmingham are younger physicians who have families, in part because of the affordable cost of living and the availability of family-friendly activities.

“It’s an hour to the mountains, less than an hour to a bunch of lakes and four hours to the beach,” he says. “Candidates tend to be struck—they’re surprised by how beautiful it is and how close they are to all sorts of activities.”

“Family-friendly events and activities are plentiful in Birmingham,” echoes Dilcy Windham Hilley, vice president of marketing communications at Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It is widely considered one of the most family-oriented cities in the Southeast.”

Annual events include the Sloss Music and Arts Festival, the Sidewalk Film Festival (one of the top independent film festivals in the U.S.), the Day of the Dead Festival and the Pride Parade, to name a few.

You can find beautiful white sand beaches, along with plenty of opportunities for fishing, hiking, golfing and camping, all in the state of Alabama. If you want a change of pace, you are close enough to Nashville, Atlanta and the Florida panhandle to get away for a weekend.

In a region characterized by southern hospitality, moderate year-round temperatures and a thriving health care system, it is no surprise physicians and their families are finding themselves in greater Birmingham. As Meythaler says, “this is a really nice circumstance to be in.”

Warwick, Rhode Island

In the greater Providence area, including picturesque cities like Warwick, locals can get outside to enjoy the natural beauty of the state and soak up city culture in the same day (and kids will delight in an afternoon spent at the zoo or watching minor league baseball).

When Therese Zink, M.D., explains why she chose family medicine as her specialty, she recognizes her reasoning is not uncommon for physicians in her field.

“My reason for choosing family medicine is one that you will hear from other family docs,” she says. “As a medical student, I fell in love with every specialty I rotated on. Family medicine allows us to do it all.”

Zink’s career has included teaching, research and administration in the academic setting.

Now a physician at Care New England, a health system that includes several hospitals in Rhode Island, Zink chose her current role because it allows her to work in academics while also seeing patients part-time.

According to Jean Butler, Medical Group COO at Care New England, the focus the health system places on teaching partnerships with Brown University and University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine is a big draw for physicians who are considering a job with the network.

Butler says that Care New England’s physician-dominated board of directors has a positive impact on the organization. “It’s 80 percent physician participation, and they really do lead the group and where the group is going,” she says.

In addition to Care New England’s hospitals, other medical facilities in the region include Rhode Island Hospital (the state’s largest hospital), Hasbro Children’s Hospital, and Miriam Hospital (noted for cardiac care), among others. Plus, Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School is a leader in medical education and biomedical research.

As for why physicians might want to relocate to the greater Providence area, other than the jobs themselves, Butler says Providence’s status as a “mini Boston” is one good reason.

“It has all the elements of a major city,” says Butler. Despite being convenient to Boston and New York, locals don’t have to leave town for culture, great cuisine or exciting events.

Providence’s signature event is WaterFire, an award-winning fire sculpture installation situated in the heart of downtown on three of Providence’s rivers. Other cultural opportunities include exhibits at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, gallery nights at venues across the city, and a restaurant week that features nearly 100 restaurants.

For kids, there is Roger Williams Park Zoo, which is the third oldest zoo in the country. There is also the Providence Children’s Museum, the Providence Children’s Film Festival, and the Pawtucket Red Sox. And of course, you can get outside. “Rhode Island sits on the coast, so people who live here like boating and swimming,” says Butler.

For Zink’s partner, in particular, being in Rhode Island was a perfect fit. “My partner is from the West Coast, so he was ready to see the ocean again,” says Zink.

“We have loved walking the rocky beach with our dog, Conner, who is enjoying the seafood and learning not to drink the saltwater,” she adds. And, says Zink, her role at Care New England and the ability to work part-time in family medicine gives her time to pursue another passion—writing. She is writing a trilogy of international aid novels that feature a family physician.

"I don't know what you'd have to pay me to leave Bentonville," says Chad Jones, M.D. "It's wonderful here." -Photo by Stephen Ironside
“I don’t know what you’d have to pay me to leave Bentonville,” says Chad Jones, M.D. “It’s wonderful here.” -Photo by Stephen Ironside

Bentonville, Arkansas

The city of Bentonville, located in Northwest Arkansas, is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.

With a friendly and diverse population, great culinary experiences, affordable quality of life, good schools and expanding, state-of-the-art health care institutions, more and more people—physicians included—are deciding to call Bentonville and its neighboring communities home.

We have the whole world here,” says Chad Jones, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas. After graduating from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, Jones earned a master’s degree in biomedical engineering at Ohio State University. He also earned his medical degree at the Ohio State University before interning at Beaumont Hospital in Michigan.

Jones loves his specialty, specifically the fact that he can help make people better through surgery. “I don’t like taking care of sick people, but I love fixing broken people,” he says.

“We have a loud music selection that helps us when we’re operating. Here at Mercy Hospital, they have Bose sound systems for all the operating rooms, and the sound is fantastic.”

Physicians at the hospital treat patients from a huge variety of demographics, primarily due to the diverse population that is employed by Walmart’s Bentonville headquarters.

According to Raley O’Neill, Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas physician recruiter, the hospital—which is 10 years old this year—is expanding every single service it offers.

Construction to the building, which is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2019, will add 100 beds, significantly growing the current capacity of just over 200 beds. As part of the $227 million expansion, the hospital is also opening new clinics in the region.

With the significant population growth in the area, Mercy expects to add 1,000 jobs, including about 100 physicians. Currently, the greatest recruitment needs are in gastroenterology, urology and rheumatology, as well as for hospitalists and OB-GYN hospitalists. Pulmonologists specializing in electrophysiology are also in demand.

Other medical facilities in the community include Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville (a 128-bed acute care facility) and Washington Regional (a nonprofit, community-owned health care system with a hospital in Fayetteville and clinics across the region).

Kalene Griffith, president of Visit Bentonville, says that once people find employment and settle in the area, they tend to want to stick around. “We have people that change jobs rather than transfer out of the community,” she says.

In addition to the expanding health care options, the region offers affordable housing, top schools in the state, a budding music scene and cultural experiences for both children and adults.

Cultural attractions include Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Museum of Native American History, Bentonville Film Festival and Amazeum, a children’s museum with hands-on experiences.

“Most important, the people are friendly and welcoming,” says Griffith.

“A year or two ago, I was talking with a fairly well-known person in medicine about a potential position for me in Little Rock,” says Jones. “I told him I appreciated that, but with all due respect, I don’t know what you’d have to pay me to leave Bentonville. It’s wonderful here.”


Liz Funk

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