Since the start of the pandemic, small towns across the United States have seen a spike in new residents. Many Americans are leaving large cities in favor of smaller communities. Physicians are among that group—and for plenty of good reasons.
Take Hershey, Pennsylvania, for example. A low cost of living and a variety of things to do make it a sweet place to live in more ways than one. And in Sidney, Ohio, physicians enjoy their community’s traditional Midwestern ethos along with a good work/life balance. Meanwhile the small Southern town of Batesville, Arkansas, is perfect for physicians who love to get outdoors. And Starkville, Mississippi, offers a vibrant community with all the excitement and amenities you’d expect from a college town, plus plenty for young professionals, families and retirees.
The sweet life of Hershey, Pennsylvania
Nestled in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Hershey has a history as rich as its namesake. In the late 1800s, chocolatier Milton S. Hershey set out on a mission to sell milk chocolate to the American public. At the time, it was considered a Swiss luxury product. In 1903, construction began on his chocolate manufacturing plant in the town of Derry Church, Pennsylvania. And when construction finished in 1905, Derry Church was renamed Hershey.
Today, many of Hershey’s popular attractions center around its chocolate history. Hershey’s Chocolate World offers unique tasting experiences, a 4-D movie, a tour that explains how chocolate is made and the chance to create your own candy bar. Visit the MeltSpa by Hershey for chocolate-themed spa treatments or Chocolatetown in Hersheypark for a variety of restaurants with chocolate-inspired menus.
But the town also has plenty to offer beyond sweet treats. Jessica Mullany, MHA, FASPR, director of provider recruitment at Penn State Health, says “There’s lots to do here. Whether it’s people who are biking or hiking or outdoor enthusiasts. …If you’re a foodie or into the dining scene, we have a lot of great restaurants. We have a lot of great shopping, so there kind of feels like there’s something here for everyone.”
This variety is part of the reason Mullany says Hershey is such a great place to live. “There are lots of different festivals that are happening throughout central Pennsylvania, whether it’s music festivals, art festivals or different food festivals,” she explains. “We have Hersheypark and the Giants Center, which has concerts.”
She adds that there’s also plenty of options for sports fans, saying, “There’s Minor League Baseball. We have the Lancaster Barnstormers and a team in Harrisburg. We have the Hershey Bears, which is Minor League Hockey, so there’s a lot of hockey fans here. Of course, a lot of people are very interested in Penn State football. While it’s not necessarily right in our region, it’s a short drive away.”
Accessibility is another appealing feature of Hershey. The Harrisburg International Airport and the Harrisburg train station are both within a 15-minute drive. And Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are all within a two-hour car drive.
Hershey has more than 14,000 residents, and Mullany says people are often surprised by its high quality of life coupled with its low cost of living. It’s one reason many physicians, particularly those starting out with significant student debt, are attracted to the region. Their salary goes a lot further in Hershey than it would in a large metropolitan city.
It’s easy to see why physicians choose to put down roots in Hershey—or in the case of Alexandra Moody, M.D., why they choose to return. Moody, an internal medicine specialist at the Penn State Health Lime Spring Outpatient Center, grew up in central Pennsylvania and attended Franklin & Marshall College in nearby Lancaster.
She then went on to medical school at the Ross University School of Medicine before returning to Pennsylvania for the internal medicine residency program at WellSpan York Hospital. Taking a job with Penn State Health let her return to the area she grew up in.
“I’ve been circling Hershey for the longest time. I’m also a violinist, and I’ve played with the Hershey Symphony Orchestra since I was 13 years old, and they always do their July 4th concert on the lawn of the Hershey Medical Center,” says Moody. “So I’ve been eyeing the school and medical center for the longest time, and it never really worked out until after residency.”
Echoing Mullany, Moody thinks central Pennsylvania is such a great place to live because there truly is something for everyone—from nearby ski resorts and hiking trails to attractions like Hershey Gardens and ZooAmerica, plus plenty of restaurants and breweries. “I keep finding something new, and that’s what I love about it,” she says.
Moody’s employer, Penn State Health, is a multi-hospital health system with more than 16,000 employees systemwide. She says she felt comfortable right away while interviewing and touring the facilities, and she knew it would be a good fit for her. The environment and supportive culture make it a great place to work.
“Penn State Health is committed to physicians and making sure they are successful in their career from the time they begin the recruitment process up through not only their onboarding but becoming established in their practice—whatever area of medicine they may be practicing,” Mullany says. “The goal is to make sure they are successful in their role. So, it’s not an every-man-for-himself or every-woman-for-herself mentality. It really is that we want to make sure we have individuals put into positions that can succeed and that are happy and able to give back to the community.”
One hospital within the Penn State Health system is the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the only Level I trauma center for adults and children in Pennsylvania. The 628-bed facility is Penn State Health’s flagship medical center. The Hershey campus also includes the Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, Penn State Cancer Institute and Penn State College of Medicine.
For physicians looking for supportive work environments in smaller towns with plenty of activities, Hershey is certainly worth considering. “I’ve been here since 2005,” says Mullany. “When you start your career, you never think you’ll be there this many years later, but I never had a reason to leave. I think that speaks volumes. Penn State Health really is the best place to work.”
Penn State Health has immediate opportunities in neurology, psychiatry and urology.
The Midwest friendliness of Sidney, Ohio
Small-town comfort meets Midwest charm in Sidney. With a thriving job market, exceptional schools and numerous activities, it’s a great place for physicians. The exceptional work-life balance is an especially big draw, particularly at Wilson Health Medical Group.
“Back in the day, physicians just worked, worked, worked, worked,” explains Chris Jones, provider recruiter at Wilson Health Medical Group. However, she says that’s not the case in Sidney. “Sidney and Wilson Health Medical Group allow that time for physicians to have a wonderful work/life balance.”
And thanks to that balance, physicians can take advantage of everything the town and surrounding areas have to offer. In the warmer months, Sidney residents enjoy the weekly farmer’s market, outdoor concerts in the courthouse square, a barbecue festival and the Shelby County Fair, among many other events. There are also plenty of water activities, like paddleboarding on the Great Miami River and swimming or boating at Lake Loramie, a 1,600-acre lake with 30 miles of shoreline.
In the cooler months, the Winter Wonderland Parade kicks off the holiday season with thousands of residents and out-of-town guests in attendance. The Downtown Sidney Holiday Lights Grand Illumination, Christmas of Yesteryear and Holiday Shop Hop are a few other activities to look forward to each winter. Plus, there’s no shortage of unique shops, restaurants or historical sites to explore no matter the season.
Sidney’s population of about 20,000 creates the intimate small-town feel many physicians are seeking. But it also offers close proximity to several Midwestern cities with metropolitan amenities. Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Louisville are all within a three-hour drive, so physicians can get the best of both worlds.
With more than 60 medical providers at its three locations in Ohio, Wilson Health Medical Group is a large employer of physicians in the state, and Sidney is home to its main hospital campus: a 71-bed, short-term, acute-care facility. The work environment and friendly staff here are key selling points for physicians considering Sidney.
“They are willing, encouraging and excited about having people or having providers join their teams,” says Jones. “It’s very much a team atmosphere. [It is] not unusual at all for one physician to call another at nighttime if they need to just ask a question. They partner very easily. It’s just as congenial of a place to work as it is a welcoming place to live.”
Cara Wolters, M.D., is a family physician at Wilson Health Medical Group. She’s also a lifelong Ohio resident and Sidney native, and her experience is a testament to the quality of life that physicians can expect in Sidney.
Wolters completed her undergraduate studies at Ohio Northern University then attended medical school at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio. She focuses on natural procreative technology to restore women’s reproductive health naturally.
Wolters started at Wilson Health Medical Group in January 2020, when many practices began shifting as a result of the pandemic. “It was a lot of adapting,” she recalls. “It’s a huge test to a system, whether it’s large or small, of how well you did to adapt to that major change. I thought Wilson Health actually did a really great job.”
While she might not have anticipated starting her career in the middle of a pandemic, Wolters always saw herself working in the medical field. After growing up with medical issues and undergoing several surgeries as an adolescent, Wolters decided in high school to pursue medicine. The care she received then from doctors and nurses inspires her passion for working closely with patients today.
“It’s all about the relationships and quality time,” she says. For her, having great rapport with community members is a big component of practicing in Sidney, as are her memories of growing up there.
“I enjoyed my childhood and my high school years, and I think if someone had absolutely hated and dreaded it, they probably wouldn’t be going back to their hometown, and they wouldn’t have the good warm fuzzy feelings that I did,” says Wolters. “I had a good experience, so yeah, why wouldn’t I come back and raise my kids in the same area?”
Wilson Health is currently recruiting in internal medicine and family medicine.
The historic town of Batesville, Arkansas
Located along the 722-mile White River about 90 miles north of Little Rock, Batesville is a small town that’s seen a lot of history. The town dates back to the early 1800s. A large number of pioneers passed through the state on the Old Southwest Trail, as did the Choctaw Nation during the Trail of Tears and various troops throughout the Civil War. Thanks to steamboat transportation along the White River, the town kept growing, especially once the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway was completed in the early 1900s.
Today, Batesville continues to attract both tourists and residents. A small town of about 10,000 residents, it offers a variety of things to do and see. Downtown Batesville is full of shops and local eateries to explore, while Old Independence Regional Museum is a great stop for history buffs. And Jamestown Crag, Lyon College Bluff Trail and Sugarloaf Mountain have plenty of trails to hike, bike or camp.
Water lovers can find a number of places for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming or birdwatching at Polk Bayou, Bridal Veil Falls, Kennedy Park, Spring River or White River. And the community also enjoys Blanchard Springs Caverns, Riverside Park and the Batesville Community Center and Aquatics.
On top of that, the town boasts an impressive number of events and festivals. The annual Artoberfest is a family-friendly event arts and music festival, while the annual Arkansas Scottish Festival hosted by Lyon College is a fun weekend of crafts, competitions, food and history. And the Ozark Foothills FilmFest brings a number of tourists to the area.
There are also free movies in the park monthly from May through October, and sports lovers can find a variety of activities from dodgeball tournaments to 5k races and co-ed volleyball. You can even try out pickleball—a fun blend of ping pong and tennis—at the Batesville Community Center.
Batesville helps the community connect with physicians and vice versa with its monthly Walk with a Doc event on the third Saturday of every month. Part of a nationwide initiative, Walk with a Doc invites a doctor to give a short presentation to community members, then lead them on a walk as a measure to improve health. In Batesville, the event is supported by physicians at White River Health System, a large local employer.
White River Health System has two hospitals and many clinics across Arkansas. They offer a large variety of patient care services from cancer and palliative care to cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and surgical services. The 235-bed facility White River Medical Center in Batesville is the first hospital in the region to offer Mako Robotic Arm-Assisted Technology for joint replacement surgeries as part of their orthopedic services. Also noteworthy is their use of da Vinci X robotic system for assisted surgeries.
White River Health System’s emergency facilities are also part of Arkansas’s trauma network, designed to give patients access to appropriate care as fast as possible. White River Health System is currently recruiting in emergency medicine, endocrinology, gastroenterology, interventional cardiology, nephrology, neurology, orthopedic surgery, pediatrics and psychiatry.
The collegial spirit of Starkville, Mississippi
Home to Mississippi State University, Starkville is a lively college town with more than 20,000 students and 25,000 residents. Throughout the year, the town is bustling with SEC sporting events. And beyond the campus, the town has plenty to offer young professionals, growing families and retirees.
For outdoor enthusiasts, there are plenty of places for hiking, biking, kayaking, hunting and even birdwatching. History lovers will enjoy the town’s many museums like the Charles H. Templeton, Sr. Music Museum, the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library and Museum and the Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana gallery.
There’s also no shortage of shopping—from college apparel stores to record stores and flower shops. For foodies, the town has more restaurants per capita than any other community in the state. And the Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival, annual Taco Hop and King Cotton Crawfish Boil are just a few of the fun events the community enjoys throughout the year.
In addition to its own attractions, Starkville is situated close to several larger cities. Memphis, Birmingham and Jackson, Mississippi, can all be reached by car in under three hours.
Mississippi State is the town’s largest employer with thousands of employees. OCH Regional Medical Center employs an impressive number as well, with more than 300 doctors and nurses across its 12 clinics in Starkville. OCH has 20 specialties ranging from family medicine clinics, general surgery and emergency medicine to oral and maxillofacial surgery, plastic surgery and sleep medicine.
OCH Regional Medical Center has received several noteworthy recognitions as well. Most recently, it was named a Covid-19 Center of Excellence by the Mississippi State Department of Health, and in fall 2020, it was named one of America’s safest hospitals by Leapfrog Hospital Safety Guide.
OCH has immediate openings in orthopedics, internal medicine and neurology.