Are you a physician looking to practice in a small town with character? These rural cities might have what you want.
Are you a physician looking to practice in a small town with character? These rural cities might have what you want.

Live & Practice – Small Towns and Rural Cities


Table of Contents

If you don’t think you can thrive in a small town, think again and check out these rural cities: Snohomish, Washington; Pikeville, Kentucky; Marquette, Michigan; and Johnson City, Tennessee. Each boasts amenities, events and outdoor activities — plus plenty of professional opportunities.

Snohomish, Washington

You may know Washington state as the birthplace of Starbucks and home of the Space Needle. Or perhaps you know it for its snow-capped mountains and picture-perfect national parks. However, you may be less familiar with the quaint small towns tucked in its mountains and valleys. Thirty miles north of Seattle lies the charming town of Snohomish, Washington. With a population of 10,000, this town combines close-knit community with a variety of things to do.

THE HISTORIC DOWNTOWN HOUSES AN impressive number of eateries, coffee shops, breweries, boutiques and galleries. More than a dozen hiking, biking and walking trails aren’t far off. Go kayaking, boating or fishing on nearby lakes, sloughs and river channels. Or take a hot air balloon ride for panoramic views of the region.

Whatever your interests, Snohomish has an event to suit. Mark your calendars for the Snobird Festival, Snohomish Hard Cider Festival, River’s Edge Brewfest, Snohomish Wine Festival, Sky Valley Motorcycle Show and more.

Snohomish’s location means easy access to larger cities. Seattle is just 40 minutes away. Bellevue and Everett are even closer, reachable within 30 and 15 minutes respectively. These metros offer every kind of shopping, dining and activity you could want. And in Snohomish, you can enjoy their amenities without the hustle and bustle of city life.

That’s exactly why Kristy Thompson, D.O., decided to plant roots in Snohomish. A Washington state native, Thompson went to Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific for medical school. She then completed residency in Vancouver, Washington, and service for the National Health Service Corps in eastern Washington.

“My husband and I were very intentional about where we moved, and we chose Snohomish because it is absolutely beautiful. It provides very easy access to metropolitan areas as well as more rural areas. It’s easy to get to the mountains, the beach, the water, the city,” Thompson says. “It’s a great place to live because I think there’s something for everybody.”

Thompson is a family medicine physician with Providence Medical Group in Snohomish. She moved to the area about nine years ago as a physician in nearby Mill Creek. When she learned Providence was opening a second clinic a mile from her home in Snohomish, Thompson jumped at the opportunity. She helped open the clinic and is now the group’s medical director of patient experience.

“Opening this clinic has been a dream. Providence has been absolutely supportive in every way. They have helped me find and create a group of people that are very much mission-oriented. The people I work with always have the patients’ interests at heart,” Thompson says. “It’s been an amazing experience and one I’m really grateful for, especially being in the community where I live.”

Providence Medical Group’s 35 clinic locations in and around Snohomish County include walk-in clinics and a behavioral health urgent care. And being part of the larger Providence Health & Services system has its benefits.

“Providence has more than 120,000 caregivers across five western states, and together we advance best practices, pursue innovative ways to transform health care and are committed to high-quality, compassionate care for everyone— regardless of coverage or ability to pay,” Thompson says.

As a mission-driven organization, Providence also contributes to the community. In 2021, they provided $89 million of community benefit throughout North Puget Sound, the area surrounding Snohomish. And the system’s collaborative work environment is good for patients and employees alike. In fact, the first known COVID-19 patient in the U.S. presented to a Providence Medical Group clinic. The team at Providence Everett successfully treated the case.

“I think that speaks to the quality of care here and our ability to work together as a team to handle something that could be seen as a crisis or something that none of us have ever walked through,” Thompson says.

“It’s easy to get to the mountains, the beach, the water, the city, ” says Kristy Thompson, D.O., of Snohomish, Washington.

Thompson also says Providence constantly strives to improve both the patient and caregiver experiences. This makes it a great place to advance your career. Outside of work, you can enjoy all Snohomish has to offer.

“Living here in Snohomish and working for Providence has really provided me an opportunity to have a good work/life balance and stay involved with my children and family

but feel supported at my work and be able to provide the type of care I want to provide for my patients,” she says.

Providence is currently recruiting for cardiology and neurosurgery.

Pikeville, Kentucky

Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains lies Pikeville, Kentucky. With just over 7,000 residents, this small town has a rich history and a whole lot of heart.

IF YOU’RE FAMILIAR WITH THE HATFIELD-MCCOY FEUD, you may know Pikeville as McCoy territory. History buffs can immerse themselves in the story with a self-guided driving tour through Kentucky and West Virginia. The Stone Heritage Museum covers Pikeville’s coal mining heritage and Appalachian history. Music lovers can enjoy learning about Pikeville native Dwight Yoakam. And Loretta Lynn’s birthplace in nearby Butcher Holler is also worth exploring.

If history’s not your thing, fear not. Pikeville has plenty of modern appeal as well. The Appalachian Mountains abound in hiking and biking trails. And nature lovers will enjoy Breaks Interstate Park. Set on 4,000 acres, it features more than 25 miles of trails, a 5-mile-wide gorge and elk-viewing tours. And thrill-seekers can find white water rafting, kayaking, horseback riding and ziplining in the area.

After a full day of activities, relax in downtown Pikeville. There, you can grab a bite and a craft beer at Broken Throne Brewing or a number of other local eateries. Find even more local flavor at the Pikeville Farmer’s Market. For entertainment, attend productions year-round at The Appalachian Center for the Arts and catch first-run movies at Riverfill 10 Cinemas. From June to September, check out Main Street Live!, a series of music events.

Pikeville’s education and health care offerings are top-notch. It’s home to the University of Pikeville, the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Kentucky College of Optometry. There are also plans for a dental school.

Pikeville Medical Center is an important community asset. The Level II trauma center has 348 beds and a full range of specialties and subspecialties. It is the largest referral center in the region, and it recently opened its children’s hospital specialty clinic. In 2020 and 2021, Forbes magazine ranked it as one of the best employers in the state of Kentucky.

“To be honest with you, I’ve never worked in a hospital like Pikeville,” says Anil Duggal, m.d. “It’s a hidden gem.”

A hand and plastic surgeon at Pikeville Medical Center, Duggal decided to pursue medicine at a young age. “I had a childhood illness, and my pediatrician saved my life,” he says. “I felt passionate about trying to help other people probably because I saw what my pediatrician did for me and how that affected our entire family.”

When he started medical school, Duggal thought he’d become a family doctor. Then he crossed paths with some surgeons who changed his mind.

“I worked with a couple of plastic surgeons who did hand surgery, and I started to talk to them and discovered that plastic surgeons work on all parts of the body,” he explains.

“They are very detail-oriented people, and there’s a lot of creativity and a lot of problem-solving.”

Duggal’s interest in reconstruction and restoring function convinced him to pursue plastic surgery. He earned his medical degree at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. He went on to complete a burn and critical care fellowship at the University of Alberta Edmonton Firefighters Burn Treatment Unit, a plastic and reconstructive surgery residency at McGill University and another fellowship at the Christine M. Kleinert Institute for Hand and Micro Surgery at the University of Louisville.

After training, Duggal moved to Lexington and became a hand surgeon at the University of Kentucky. He and his wife had loved living in Kentucky during residency. They thought it would be a good place to raise kids and an adventure worth trying.

“To be honest with you, I’ve never worked in a hospital like Pikeville, ” says Anil Duggal, M.D. “It’s a hidden gem.”

The academic setting at UK gave Duggal opportunities to continue growing as a surgeon. He enjoyed sharing knowledge with residents and advancing research in the field. But his curiosity was piqued when a friend asked him about moving to Pikeville for an opportunity. “I said, ‘Wow that’s eastern Kentucky. That’s Appalachia.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you’re going to love it.’ I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘You’re going to love it because all they want is people that care—people who are going to do their best—and you’re going to love it here,” Duggal recalls. “He wasn’t lying. It’s a phenomenal place to work. The community adopts you, and they appreciate that you are there.”

Duggal says Pikeville is home to some of the most genuine, polite individuals he’s ever met. That’s one reason he doesn’t see himself ever leaving. The hospital also checks a lot of boxes for him.

“This is a hospital where I can walk into the CEO’s office and say, ‘I’ve got this surgery coming up. This is the patient’s problem, and I really think if I can get this piece of equipment that I can do a good job.’ And he’ll say, ‘If it’s going to help the patients, you’ve done it before and liked it, let’s do it to get the outcome you need,” Duggal says. “That’s not like that at other places. They want you to do what you do best. They want to remove any distractions, and they want to get you any equipment that will help you be successful in getting a good patient outcome, so it’s amazing.”

Duggal has had such a positive experience in Pikeville that he wonders why anyone would hesitate to move there. So he asked around.

One of the answers was, “‘Well, they look on the map and think that’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. Or they’ll look online and say: ‘That’s a pretty poor part of the country,’’” he says. “But that’s a misnomer. I don’t find it as remote as some people think.”

Pikeville residents can reach metropolitan areas without the stress of urban living. In fact, six different airports are within driving distance.

The lack of traffic and the incredible work/life balance both attract people to Pikeville. The setting offers the chance to practice big-city medicine in a small town.

“People have no idea what this place is like,” raves Duggal. “If they actually came to this place and met people, there would be a line of people wanting to work here. That’s how I feel about Pikeville. It’s almost like it’s too good to be true.”

Pikeville Medical Center is currently recruiting for cardiology, hospital medicine, outpatient internal medicine, general surgery, gastroenterology and internal medicine-pediatrics.

Marquette, Michigan

There are many things to say about Marquette, Michigan. Travel Marquette president and CEO Susan Estler might capture the sentiment best. “Once you come here and visit, you’ll just fall in love,” she says.

LOCATED IN MICHIGAN’S UPPER Peninsula along Lake Superior, Marquette offers more than you’d expect in a town of about 20,000.

If you enjoy hiking, biking or taking in scenic views, you’ll love Marquette’s 100-plus miles of trails. With 83 miles of Lake Superior shoreline, there’s no shortage of sandy beaches. You can also try paddleboarding, boating, fishing, scuba diving or surfing on the lake. And Marquette happens to be one of the best U.S. spots to observe the Northern Lights.

Warm weather events abound in Marquette. Enjoy the Big Bay Relay, Art Week, Music on Third Street, Downtown Marquette Restaurant Week, the Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic and the Festival of the Angry Bear, an annual beer festival. And the fun doesn’t stop when cold weather rolls around. Winter calendars include the Fresh Coast Film Festival, Upper Michigan Ice Racing, the Annual Ishpeming Ski Jumping Tournament, the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, and the UP200 sled dog race.

On top of all that, Marquette has a vibrant arts scene and eateries for every palate. “Once you visit, you’ll want to come back and live here,” Estler says. “That’s what happened to me.”

When Estler visited Marquette to interview for her current position, the sights drew her in. Her hotel room overlooked Lake Superior. She caught the breathtaking view every time she opened the curtains. As she walked to her interview, everything was so beautiful that she says she fell in love with the town.

Estler isn’t alone in that. Craig Coccia, M.D., began visiting Marquette in 1981 as a student at the University of Michigan Medical School. He went on to complete residency at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and a fellowship at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But Marquette stayed near and dear to his heart. In 1992, he finally moved there and has been a happy camper for the past 30 years.

“Marquette punches above its weight,” Coccia says. “For a small town, it has far more opportunities—culturally, educationally, recreationally—than one would anticipate.”

Marquette also has an incredibly robust health care system for its size. UP Health System-Marquette is one of three hospitals in up Health System. A 315-bed hospital, it has more than 300 physicians and provides care in 65 specialties and subspecialties. “Our health system is big enough to support the career paths that you want,” says Theresa Stewart, regional director of provider recruitment for LifePoint Health. “If you are a neurologist, for example, with a primary focus of stroke, come to us with that interest, and we will work with you to build a stroke program. We are nimble enough to be able to do that and large enough to support it. We are happy to work with you and help you structure your practice how it best suits you.”

Notably, Marquette’s hospital is the first in the state of Michigan and the fourth in the nation to earn the Cardiac Cath Lab Accreditation with PCI by the American College of Cardiology Accreditation Services. The hospital has several major service lines, including heart and vascular care, cancer care, and brain and spine care. Coccia is one of the hospital’s three neurosurgeons.

Thanks to the new facility and availability of specialties, Coccia says UP Health System-Marquette has been a great place to practice. A supportive community doesn’t hurt either. Coccia says the people of Marquette are some of the nicest he’s ever met. This makes them a delight to care for.

With a career at UP Health System-Marquette, you can enjoy Marquette’s friendly residents and become one yourself.

“You see it in every ad. Everybody offers that work/life balance, but because of where we live and how we all live here, work/life balance isn’t just a buzzword for us. It’s actually true,” Stewart says. “We make that a priority because we understand that’s why you move here. You move here to be able to go to Music on Third or your child’s soccer game or other event. You don’t have to leave at noon because it’s a four-hour commute through traffic to get anywhere. These are only a few reasons why physicians can, do and should choose here.”

As if a charming lake town isn’t enough of a dream, Marquette pairs its idyllic setting with opportunities for a fulfilling medical career. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

UP Health System-Marquette is currently recruiting for cardiology, oncology, neurosurgery and neurology.

Johnson City, Tennessee

In the heart of east Tennessee, you’ll find Johnson City. This 71,000-person town has so many events, activities and outdoor recreation, you’ll think you’re in a metropolitan area.

WHEN IT COMES TO dining, foodies are in luck. Explore cuisines ranging from Korean and Italian to burgers and barbecue. Wet your whistle at the six breweries or head to the speakeasy downtown for creative cocktails.

If you love the great outdoors, you’ve got plenty of choices. Bike the 10-mile Tweetsie Trail or explore 40 acres of terrain at the Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park. Johnson City also has plenty of fun annual events. And if you’re a sports fan, you can always catch a Johnson City Doughboys baseball game or any of East Tennessee State University’s athletic events. Or head to nearby Bristol for NASCAR races at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“In terms of the area, you couldn’t ask for a better place to live,” says Patty Turner, director of physician recruitment of Johnson City-based Ballad Health. “We have three small cities within 25 minutes of each other—Johnson City; Kingsport, Tennessee; and Bristol, Virginia— so it’s almost like living in a bigger city.”

Safety, short commutes and great quality of life are a few other perks.

A 20-year area resident, Turner uses her love of the area to recruit physicians like Leon Bass, m.d. He’s a pulmonary and critical care physician at Ballad Health’s Johnson City Medical Center. He also serves as the center’s director of critical care medicine.

“When it came time to find a job, we wanted to have something in the South but with seasons,” Bass says about he and his wife’s job-search strategy.

Bass says Johnson City’s strong community and welcoming residents are a huge draw. He’s built close relationships with his patients. Ballad Health also focuses on the provider experience. Bass says the system is open to new ideas and physician input, and they give physicians resources to embrace and implement changes.

Johnson City Medical Center is a 445-bed regional tertiary referral center. It’s one of five Level I trauma centers in the state. A full range of specialties are available, including a children’s hospital and a psychiatric facility that offers addiction treatment. There’s also a 43-bed ICU, a cancer center and a vascular center. Ballad Health’s physician group has more than 750 physicians in 21 hospitals across 29 counties in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky.

With a thriving medical center and plenty of activities, it’s no wonder people are flocking to Johnson City.

Ballad Health is currently recruiting for family medicine, neuro-hospital medicine, neurosurgery, psychiatry, occupational medicine, addiction medicine, cardiology, pulmonary critical care, oncology, urology, plastic surgery, gynecology, gastroenterology and otolaryngology. •




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