Image of Dayton, Ohio, as an example of rural towns to practice medicine
Image of Dayton, Ohio, as an example of rural towns to practice medicine

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Live & Practice: Small Towns and Rural Cities, Spring 2021

Table of Contents

Steven Lewis, M.D.
A native Chicagoan, Steven Lewis, M.D., first visited Allentown on a recruitment visit. Now, he says, “There’s so much to the Lehigh Valley itself.” – Photo by Timothy Gangi

Looking for a place to call home outside of the big city—but with enough amenities to make a night out exciting? These small cities offer the best of big-city living coupled with small-town charm.

Allentown, Pennsylvania

Allentown, Pennsylvania, is on the rise again as young professionals gravitate to the area to live in chic lofts refurbished from their origins as industrial-era warehouses. Located in a lush valley surrounded by the rolling hills of eastern Pennsylvania, the city is close enough for weekend trips to New York or Philadelphia (or daily commutes for the daring). But why leave, when the Lehigh Valley area’s health care jobs have expanded in the past five years?

“Location is a key advantage for us. This is what really attracts people,” says Karen Fay, executive recruiter for Lehigh Valley Health Network. “You can reach anything that you’re interested in a very short distance. We are an hour and a half from New York City and an hour from Philadelphia. It’s not expensive to live here. It’s easy to live here. There are 10 colleges and universities, so it gives the area a very lively feeling.”

Says Fay, “Our office is in Center City Allentown, and we have some brand-new luxury apartments that are right downtown in the center of the city. There is a marketplace with all these restaurants and shops all around. It’s very much a city feeling, but it’s all very clean and new. Most of our physicians live in the new luxury high-rise buildings.”

The total population for the Lehigh Valley was 628,000, as of the most recent 2019 count.

Says Steven L. Lewis, M.D., chief of neurology at Lehigh Valley Health Network, “My first impression was both how beautiful the area is, how large it is and how nice the people are… I did have some knowledge of the legacy of the Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) in neurologic care and neurologic education, but as a native Chicagoan, I had limited knowledge of the Lehigh Valley and had never visited here prior to my recruitment. Since coming here, I’ve really enjoyed the Lehigh Valley’s unique combination of urban, rural and suburban, which includes the Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton region and a very large geographical region beyond it. The Lehigh Valley region is incredibly diverse in all respects. The proximity to other major regions of the Northeast (including being only a little more than an hour from both New York City and Philadelphia) is a plus, but there’s so much to the Lehigh Valley itself that that proximity is only one of the many perks of being here.”

It was during his second year of med school at Stanford when Lewis discovered, to his surprise, that neurology was his calling.

“Neurologic patients are so appreciative of our help and guidance, even in situations when there is no definitive treatment; the effective neurologist always has something to provide to help make patients’ quality of life better,” he says. “My patient population is very diverse and comes from an incredibly large catchment area. …The diversity of neurologic pathology we see is truly remarkable. Our patients are always appreciative of our neurologic specialty and subspecialty expertise.”

Fay says that excellence in practice and a positive internal culture can be traced back to the organization’s structuring as a physician-led organization.

“What sets us apart is our culture. We’re a physician-led organization. Our chairs, our CEO and our CMO are all practicing physicians, and they are so engaging. You can tell when you talk to the chairs that there’s a lot of energy. It comes from the leadership. People enjoy being with them,” Fay says.

Says Alicia Quinn, VP of marketing and strategic alliances for Discover Lehigh Valley: “I think Lehigh Valley really is a place that is super accessible and affordable. It truly is a wonderful place to grow up, to raise a family.”

She echoes recruiter Karen Fay in noting the downtown revitalization occurring in Allentown. “We’ve been going through a resurgence—maybe even a renaissance—at least the last five years,” says Quinn. In fact, Discover Lehigh Valley was experiencing such a high volume of inquiries from new residents that they created a relocation guide. “It was written primarily with the health care industry in mind,” as that is one of the largest areas of job growth in Allentown, says Quinn. “Great workforce, great education, great health care—it’s all tied in together.”

Then, naturally, there’s the food and drink scene that accompanies any trendy area with access to terrain: a local food and drink scene. “We have a lot of farm-to-table sourced menu items and a farm-to-table restaurant,” says Quinn. “There is a big brewery-winery-distillery scene and they use ingredients that are grown here. It gives you a real sense of authenticity and sense of place.”

Dayton, Ohio

Dayton is a city in southeast Ohio known for its high quality of life and its friendly people. The geography of the greater Dayton area allows for new residents to take their pick of the kind of lifestyle they want to lead. The city of Dayton provides some big-city amenities, and there are manicured suburbs beyond the city limits. And just a short drive out of the city, you can find farmland and country homes. Physicians coming to Dayton have the opportunity to live spaciously, but have big-city careers as part of Dayton’s thriving medical community.

Bryan Ludwig, M.D., had an affinity for neurosciences starting in college. During his medical training, a number of treatments for strokes were emerging, many of which involved minimally invasive surgeries and cutting-edge endovascular tools and treatments. Says Ludwig, “I knew instantly I wanted to be part of this changing landscape, which would leverage my interest in stroke care and endovascular surgery. I have never regretted my decision to be on the front lines trying to reverse the damage brain aneurysms and strokes cause patients and their families.”

Ludwig grew up in a suburb of Dayton but moved quite a bit for education over the next 15 years after graduating high school. Ludwig and his family returned to Dayton in 2010 so Ludwig could take a position with Premier Health. “My family and I have enjoyed the small-town feel of Dayton while still having access to bigger-city amenities,” he says. “I am proud to again be part of such a diverse and unique city and community. Most who live in Dayton find it welcoming and are impressed by the commitment of our residents to their own community.”

Eric Sedwick, system director of recruiting for Premier Health, says, “We are dedicated to improving the health of the communities we serve. Premier Health offers inpatient hospital campuses, seven emergency centers, seven outpatient surgery centers, home health services and more than 100 outpatient facilities. Premier Physician Network is one of the largest groups of primary and specialty care practices in southwest Ohio, with 650 physicians and advanced practice providers.”

Premier Health’s hospitals in the greater Dayton area include Atrium Medical Center, Miami Valley Hospital and Upper Valley Medical Center.

Diversity and inclusion are a core part of Premier’s culture. Says Sedwick: “We realize the best way to care for our patients is to understand them. Patients and all our employees make up our diverse workforce that reflects the community we serve. Employees help us relate to our patients on a personal level and understand their expectations so we can provide health care to meet their needs. Along with our commitment to diversity is one to inclusion. We leverage our diversity to create a fair, equal environment where differences are valued and respected.”

Ludwig says that his favorite aspect of Premier Health’s culture is the quality of the people on the team.

“I am surrounded by dedicated, highly motivated, award-winning teams of compassionate people every day. I interact with dedicated subspecialists in all areas of medicine and surgery, as well as talented primary care doctors all partnering together for the patients in Dayton. I consider myself fortunate to have found such a compassionate group of individuals to work with every day. The technicians, staff, administrators, therapists and nursing care providers are all aligned to provide excellent care and amazing patient outcomes. What is not to like about that?”

Says Ludwig: “I have helped recruit many physicians to Dayton from all over the country and world. Most are pleasantly surprised with the facilities, the amenities, the housing and the opportunities here. I have had excellent retention of physicians to the area, which is a testament to both the hospital and practice environment, and to the city itself. We are the quintessential Midwestern medium-sized city with a smaller town atmosphere.”

Sedwick is currently recruiting for vascular surgery, primary care, neurosurgery, neurology (stroke, neuromuscular, epilepsy), OB-GYN, cardiology (non-invasive and interventional), urology, ENT, orthopedic joint surgery, general surgery and pulmonary critical care.

“Dayton and the surrounding cities have so much to offer both families and single people,” Ludwig says. “All types of events are accessible and affordable, whether you are into sports, outdoors, arts/music or the many area festivals. The housing market continues to demonstrate area homes gaining value and selling quickly. As a medium-sized metropolitan area, Dayton has all variations of affordable living and with a revived downtown area, numerous suburbs with excellent schools and even rural farms with lots of land.”

Manhattan, Kansas

Manhattan, Kansas, is a Midwestern small town in northeast Kansas, with special flavor from playing college town host to Kansas State University. Some graduates return to the area to practice medicine and reconnect with Kansas State’s beloved football program. Manhattan is nicknamed “the Little Apple,” a play on the name it shares with New York City’s most famous borough. Manhattan, Kansas, has a population of approximately 55,000 (versus New York City’s population of 8 million).

“Manhattan is known for its unsolicited friendliness,” says Karen Hibbard, director of the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Our active community is a buzz of activities year-round.” Hibbard says that the city has some fun with sharing a namesake with another city that, for all intents and purposes, is its mirror opposite. There is even a midnight “apple drop” as part of the town’s public New Year’s Eve celebration.

Kansas State University is considered a Big 12 school, a member of an athletic division that includes Texas Christian University, Baylor University, Iowa State University and the University of Texas-Austin. “Big 12 sports: football and tailgating, volleyball, basketball, baseball, soccer—there is always a collegiate sport to enjoy,” says Hibbard.

Says Chris Stipe, CEO of Manhattan Surgical Hospital, “A lot of our surgeons went to K-State. There is a draw to come back, be part of the games, be part of the university.”

Stipe says that when a physician joins Manhattan Surgical Hospital, “You’re part of an independent practice. It’s more of a traditional kind of a practice where you have that independence, but you also have the opportunity to invest. We own the surgical hospital, a radiation center, an oncology center and a primary care arm. Physician-run facilities tend to be run very much by the needs of patients and their families. Our culture is one that is very focused on family care, quality and interaction with physicians. Physicians expect that they can take time to support patients.”

Says Stipe, “I think the independent medical community holds us to that standard of high customer service and focus on our patients. That’s not something that ever should be taken for granted—putting the patient first.”

Stipe says that Manhattan has an unusually independent medical community. Says Stipe, “In a lot of communities around the country, physician employment is something that has been increasing and accelerating. Manhattan is an intriguing small town, with a good school district and a few big businesses like John Deere with major locations here. It makes this its own little special area.”

Manhattan offers a wide variety of unique dining options as well as familiar chain dining as well. There is an IMAX theatre, as well as plentiful shopping downtown in “Aggieville,” the oldest shopping district in Kansas.

Other elements that make Manhattan special include the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Fun Run, the Flint Hills Festival outside the Flint Hills Discovery Center, and Symphony in the Flint Hills. The Bill Snyder Highway Half Marathon is named after Kansas State’s legendary football coach and includes a finish line on the football field.

Julie Wei, M.D.
Julie Wei, M.D., fell in love with Florida after moving from the Midwest. She’s recruited three colleagues to the area as well. – Photo by Lauren Schoepfer

Winter Park and Orlando, Florida

If, when you picture Orlando, you think of theme parks and the world’s most famous mouse, think again. Of course, the impact of tourism on Orlando’s economy and workforce can’t be understated. But there is an entire city beyond the theme park gates with a unique flavor all its own. Winter Park, a town within Orlando, was initially founded as a winter retreat in the 1880s for the well-to-do. Today, Winter Park’s historic main street Park Avenue offers shopping, dining and entertainment in a beautiful setting with a lot of local flavor.

“I can’t believe it was seven years, four months ago that I started working for Nemours,” says Julie Wei, M.D. “I interviewed the second day after it opened. I had been practicing in Kansas City. I spent 10 years there. Orlando was never really on my radar; I never thought I’d become a Floridian.”

Wei knew of Nemours from colleagues. Wei is a pediatric ENT surgeon and active in her subspecialty. She had met people employed by Nemours in the past and was aware of the unique Nemours mission for children’s health.

Wei heard through the grapevine that Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando was looking for a division chief of pediatric ENT. “The truth is, I thought, ‘OK, why not?’ I never thought of myself as a potential Floridian, but I was looking at jobs in other parts of the country,” she says.

Visiting the facility was immediately a delight; it had only been open for a single day when Wei toured it. “You are overwhelmed by the stunning architecture, the lights. I’ve never been in an operating room that is all glass. Everything is like the 22nd century.”

Working for Nemours Children’s Hospital has been a satisfying experience for Wei on both a personal and professional level. Says Wei, “They were ahead of their time, meeting the needs of Floridians. …What’s more impressive than the building are the people in it: the colleagues that I work with. They are leaders.”

“The Nemours footprint is huge. Seventy-two percent of our patients use Medicaid or are underprivileged people who deal with social justice issues,” says Wei.

“At Nemours, pronounced Nuh-moors, there isn’t much room for generalists,” says physician recruitment manager Brian Richardson. “Our recruitment is about 80 percent specialists or subspecialists. When we hire someone, we always consider, ‘Can you advance with us, clinically, academically or in research?’”

Richardson echoes Wei’s emphasis on the facility’s beauty and how energizing it is for staff and patients alike. Says Richardson, “There is no hospital I’ve seen that is like Nemours Children’s. It’s hard to be somewhere in the hospital where you can’t see the outdoors. Whenever physically possible, there is natural light. Every child’s room has floor-to-ceiling windows. That was part of the feedback from patients’ families: more space for families, more nature.”

For Wei, the road to becoming an otolaryngology surgeon was not a direct one. “I went to medical school, and I spent the summer after my first year with a hematology-oncology doctor who walked on water. I was hooked. There was no need to look at anything else. In my fourth year of medical school, I did a surgical residency. I trained in New York.” It was initially not a match at all. She did not like some of the egos around her, and she never thought she would be a surgeon, anyway. But on her last rotation, in pediatric surgery, Wei met a surgeon who told her, “‘You are a surgeon. You have the gift.’ She took me under her wing. She is the reason I am an ear, nose and throat specialist. I keep winning the lottery.”

Outside of work, there is even more to marvel at, especially for residents of Winter Park. Says Laureen Martinez, Orlando Economic Partnership’s senior director of marketing and communications, “postcard moments abound within the posh neighborhood characterized by brick-paved streets and live oak canopies draped with Spanish moss.” Winter Park is also known for its plethora of, appropriately, parks.

Martinez is emphatic that one of the most important and understated aspects of living in Orlando is its arts scene. Says Martinez, “From exclusive art collections at the Alfond Inn to the many public art galleries in the City of Orlando, the region’s vibrant arts community is well-represented in both historic and contemporary galleries.”

Wei offers very specific high praise for living and practicing in Orlando: She has recruited three colleagues to join the otolaryngology specialty at Nemours.


Liz Funk

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