waterfall in chippewa falls representing family-friendly cities
waterfall in chippewa falls representing family-friendly cities

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Live & Practice: Family-Friendly Cities 2021

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Erica Sun, D.O.
The Chickasaw Nation Department of Health gave Erica Sun, D.O., a patient-centered, family-friendly and flexible place to work. – Photo by Josh McCullock

They say it takes a village to raise a child. When you have a profession that is needed everywhere—medicine—you can choose the kind of community and the kind of atmosphere you want as you think about raising kids. Oklahoma City has a revitalized downtown area, but Oklahomans take advantage of the opportunity to spread out. Just north of Boston is Salem, Massachusetts, which is part of a stretch of communities known as the “North Shore.” Families can easily access the city, though, by hopping on the 15-mile commuter train from Salem to Boston. In Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, the weather lends itself perfectly to raising sporty children, with ice skating, cross-country skiing, and of course, hockey, as favorite local pastimes. And in Omaha, Nebraska, where there are many young families, there are scores of activities to keep everyone entertained.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City is one of the most geographically spread-out American cities. It is the eighth largest American city in terms of the reach of its borders, but 25th largest in terms of population. Those who want a taste of city life can enjoy walkability, a vibrant food scene and a popular downtown entertainment area that is constantly expanding. For those who want more space, it is there. For physicians who are interested in rural medicine, practicing with a federally recognized Native American nation is a rewarding option, and Oklahoma has 39 federally recognized tribes.

Love and marriage brought Erica Sun, D.O., to the Oklahoma City area. She met her husband while they were medical residents at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Says Sun, “He was going for his residency in ophthalmology, and I was going for my residency in family medicine and psychiatry. He grew up in Oklahoma, and his family is still here.”

There are several large hospitals in Oklahoma City, such as Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City and INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center, a facility with over 500 beds.

Sun attended Johns Hopkins University, where her multi-passionate nature found its outlet. “I’ve always been interested in the interface between physical and mental health. It’s why I majored in both biology and psychology as an undergrad, and it’s one of the reasons I became an osteopath, with its emphasis on holistic care,” she says.

A holistic approach to patient care is modus operandi at the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health, where Sun practices psychiatry in person and via telemedicine. Rural health organizations and federally recognized Native American nations were early adopters of telemedicine, as technology empowered them to serve patients in any location.

Says Sun, “The Department of Health works alongside other Chickasaw Nation departments to really provide great comprehensive care for its patients. We work closely with therapists housed under the Department of Family Services. They also have residential facilities for job reentry, rehab facilities and a youth and adolescent transitional living center.” The Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada is a facility with more than 70 beds, and there are three outpatient facilities operated by the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health.

Says Ronnie Shaw, a physician recruiter for the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health, “Being a tribal facility, we serve the Native American population. I think one of the greatest compliments I repeatedly hear from people who are familiar with our system, but unable to access their care with us, is ‘I wish I could get my health care at the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center/Clinics.’”

Sun was very impressed by how flexible and forward-thinking the Chickasaw Nation was when she started her family. “The Chickasaws were great with working with me on figuring out how to juggle my professional life and personal life. At one point in 2011, I had four babies under the age of 3, and I was nursing in between my patient visits. Using telemedicine, I was able to keep up a full-time schedule with the help of nannies, and I never missed any firsts,” says Sun.

Another key item Sun says makes Chickasaw Nation a really special place to practice is the organization’s commitment to patient care above all else. Says Sun, “I love that I have never been pressured on revenue, but have always been supported in providing the safest and best quality care to the patients I take care of. This is becoming a very rare thing in medicine now.”

Another metric of success for the Chickasaw Nation’s health care organizations is how easily they retain their physicians. Says Shaw, “We have numerous physicians who have been with us in excess of 10 years, and some over 20 years. However, we have also attracted a number of newly trained physicians bringing fresh skills and energy to balance and complement the depth and experience of our medical staff.” A new family medicine residency program, launched in 2018 at the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center, provides training for new physicians and deepens new physicians’ interest in rural health care.

Shaw is currently recruiting obstetrics/gynecology, psychiatry, endocrinology, general surgery and core faculty for the family medicine residency program.

Native American culture is an important aspect of Oklahoma living. The First Americans Museum is scheduled to open in spring 2021, located in downtown Oklahoma City along the bank of the Oklahoma River. “This will be a 175,000-square-foot facility that aims to be a world-class showcase for Oklahoma’s American Indian heritage and will house artifacts that tell the history of the 39 federally recognized tribes located in the state,” says Shaw.

Additionally, “Bricktown” and the Boathouse District have been the leading force in the downtown revitalization of Oklahoma City. Says Shaw, “The Bricktown Canal is a beautiful place to stroll or take a river tour on the boats. The Boathouse District is a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site for rowing and kayaking.” Children can also take kayaking lessons and try kayaking camps in the summer.

“I live 30 minutes south from Oklahoma City. My family has backyard chickens, and we are growing tomato, corn and okra. Our chief of family medicine raises goats, and I work with other physicians who raise cattle and horses,” says Sun. In addition, Sun enjoys palette knife painting and gardening at home, and kayaking out on the water. But, “I have four children and a German Shepherd and they take up most of my free time.”

Salem, Massachusetts

When you think of Salem, Massachusetts, you may think of black cats and witch trials. Indeed, Salem is chock full of New England history, and it’s an exciting place to live in October. Another major impact on Salem’s local culture is its proximity to Boston; Salem is just 15 miles north of Boston by car. The cities and towns north of Boston on the Massachusetts coast are referred to as “the North Shore.” The North Shore Physicians Group operates scores of outpatient facilities and specialists’ practices, and doctors have admitting privileges at the major Boston hospitals.

Says Maury McGough, M.D., a primary care physician at North Shore Physicians Group, “I had completed my residency in the Boston area, and I liked the doctors I met from the North Shore Physicians Group. There was such a depth of subspecialty support. I wanted to have great specialists to turn to, to learn from,” says McGough. Rather than join a hospital, McGough joined the North Shore Physicians Group. “Now we have a large multispecialty group based out of Salem with 450 docs. We can offer a lot of collegial support. You’re big enough to have a sophisticated infrastructure, but the focus for docs is medicine. They want to practice medicine and be really good doctors, and we give them that opportunity. It’s not an academic rat race.”

Says Louis Caligiuri, director of physician services for North Shore Medical Group, “We have 27 outpatient locations in 10 communities all along the North Shore. We’re far-reaching. Five of those locations are in Salem. Our hospital affiliate is North Shore Medical Center-Salem Hospital. Salem Hospital has been in Salem for over a hundred years. In addition to our outpatient practices, North Shore Physicians Group also staff the hospital. We employ the ER and hospitalists, intensivists, neonatologists, pediatric emergency medicine, adult psychiatrists and geriatric specialists.”

Michele Gorham, a senior recruiter for North Shore Physicians Group, is currently recruiting for primary care/internal medicine, pediatrics, cardiology, psychiatry, hospitalists and geriatric medicine. Says Gorham, “We have a team of nurses and nurse practitioners who will round in the local nursing homes. We’re looking for another physician to round out that team as well.” The North Shore Physicians Group recently added an orthopedic surgery group. Says Gorham, “We’re looking to add more orthopedists, as well as sports medicine specialists and spine surgeons.”

Says McGough, “We’re one of the largest multispecialty groups in Massachusetts, and that’s one thing that makes us unique. We’re deeply embedded in the community. Most of our docs choose to live in the community where they work. The docs who work in Salem, they might not live in Salem, but they live in the town that touches it. One town blends into the other along the North Shore. I live in Marblehead, and I’m looking out my window across the water toward Salem. I can practically see my office in Salem. It’s easy living,” says McGough.

Gorham says that for candidates, the geographic location is as important as the job itself. “Salem is a historic city 14 miles north of Boston. Salem is known for its seaside beauty and rich cultural history. It’s a very walkable, family-friendly city. There is great public transportation, including a commuter train that goes into Boston and a train that goes up and down the coast of Massachusetts.”

“Young people are the fastest-growing cohort in Salem,” says McGough. “There is a nonstop express train; it takes 20 minutes to be in Boston.”

McGough had a very positive experience raising three kids in Salem. Says McGough, “The school systems on the North Shore give you a lot of options, so you can pick the option that is right for your child. It’s one of the safest communities in the area. It’s safe, easy and community-focused. There are lots of after-school opportunities. What we find is that a lot of the doctors in our group have gotten together to share after-school responsibilities. Their kids are the same age, interested in the same activities, and that collaborating works out really well for everyone.”

Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

Looking for community? Come on in. Chippewa Falls is a town of 15,000 where knowing your neighbors (and family ice fishing competitions) are part of life. With a health system dedicated to serving Wisconsin even in its most rural stretches, physicians in Chippewa Falls will find a satisfying career with patients who are said to be abnormally nice and easy-going.

Ken Johnson, M.D., knew he wanted to work in health care from a young age. He just wasn’t entirely sure which species he wanted to care for. He completed his bachelor’s degree in zoology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and then decided to focus on humans. He attended medical school at Louisiana State University in New Orleans. “I went up to Chicago and did a three-year emergency medicine residency at the University of Illinois. They have a Level I trauma center,” says Johnson. While he was there, Johnson also earned a master’s degree in public health.

Johnson has a funny analogy for how doctors often choose their specialties. “In Harry Potter, the wand chooses the wizard. I think it’s the same thing in medicine.” To generalize, some doctors are known for certain personality traits, and they tend to end up in similar specialties. “I like figuring out what’s really wrong, fast. I don’t like long-term chronic care,” says Johnson. And so, to the ER he went.

Today, Johnson is the chief medical officer for Prevea Health. His transition into hospital administration was gradual. “When I was a physician, I would see things that would frustrate me. I figured I could bring these issues up and try to make things better.” After enough time thinking about the hospital in an operational way (no pun intended) and speaking up about opportunities for improvement, Johnson was invited to join the hospital board. He slowly started taking on more administrative responsibilities and decreasing his amount of time in the ER.

Says Dolly Willems, a physician recruiter for Prevea Health, “We are physician-owned and physician-led. If you have a problem and you want to talk to someone in administration, you’re talking to another physician. You’re taken seriously and listened to. The physician leadership is huge for us.”

Prevea physicians work at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls. HSHS is a health system that has partnerships with physician groups around Wisconsin and southern Illinois. In nearby Eau Claire, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital is another facility owned by HSHS and staffed by Prevea.

Says Willems, “Chippewa Falls is one of those hidden gems that Wisconsin is known for. It comes across as a small town. But we’re 20 minutes from Eau Claire, which is 60,000 people.” Williams is currently recruiting for OB/GYN, allergy medicine, addiction medicine and rheumatology.

Physicians coming to Chippewa Falls can enjoy a large array of outdoor and family-friendly activities.

“Our population is just over 15,000, and there no doubt is a sense of community. From Friday night football games to community events, there is something for everyone. Walking into a coffee shop where your order is known or a handful of familiar faces greet you gives you a sense of belonging. This is felt throughout the community,” says Jackie Boos, tourism director for the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.

“From parades to Oktoberfest, to music festivals and community events, you would be hard-pressed to find a weekend in the summer or fall months that does not have a planned community event. There are also events like family ice fishing tournaments. Winter is a very beautiful time of year; however, the cold can be challenging with school and other outdoor activities. People adjust their plans according to the weather,” she says. “But the list of fun is quite long: sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, fat tire biking, ice fishing, ice skating, hiking, hockey, to name just a few.”

Omaha, Nebraska

Emily Kean-Puccioni, M.D.
Omaha’s strong school districts and resources for students with special needs make it a great place to raise a family, says Emily Kean-Puccioni, M.D. – Photo by Lindsey George Photography

Omaha’s population of 480,000 makes Midwest city living very manageable. The city’s two academic medical centers make it a hotbed for medical students and residents to learn and hone their skills.

Emily Kean-Puccioni, M.D., was born and raised in Omaha and practices there today.

After a brief stint in Ohio for undergrad, Kean-Puccioni returned to Omaha to attend medical school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She also completed her residency in Omaha, opting for an OB/GYN residency at Creighton University Medical Center, then headed to Dallas for a fellowship in female bladder dysfunction and reconstructive pelvic surgery. She returned to Omaha to practice urogynecology.

Adult and Pediatric Urology and Urogynecology, PC, was established in Omaha in 1994. Today, the practice is a team of seven board-certified urologists and three board-certified urogynecologists, as well as physician assistants and support staff. The practice operates an advanced prostate cancer clinic and an accredited outpatient surgical center. The practice also specializes in female urogynecology conditions and pediatric urological conditions.

Other major employers of physicians in Omaha are two large academic medical centers. The University of Nebraska Medical Center is a teaching hospital with 5,000 students. CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy is a private teaching hospital licensed for 391 beds.

Says Kean-Puccioni, “I love raising my family in Omaha. I have three beautiful children. We are incredibly lucky to have multiple extremely strong school districts and private school options. One of my children was born with Trisomy 21. He is 15 now and doing extremely well. Omaha has excellent schools for special needs students as well and numerous therapy services, support groups and recreational activities.”

Says Kean-Puccioni, “Omaha is also home to Munroe Meyer Institute who leads the world in transforming the lives of all individuals with disabilities and special health care needs, their families and communities through outreach, engagement, premier educational programs, innovative research and extraordinary patient care. Munroe Meyer has a recreation department that provides Saturday morning camps, summer camps, after-school activities and teen and adult activities for their participants. My son has been utilizing these programs since age 4, and it is a very important part of his life. He has made lifelong friends and connections.”

Kean-Puccioni appreciates that while Omaha is so family-friendly, it also has an eclectic restaurant scene. “There are multiple neighborhoods, such as the Blackstone District and Benson that have unique vibes with their collection of live music venues and other entertainment,” she says. “We have venues that provide everything from live comedy, Broadway shows, gritty bands, symphony and opera. There is more to do here than any one person could exhaust and something for everyone.”


Liz Funk

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