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March 24, 2021

A physician’s guide to relocating

 

Anis Rehman, M.D.
Start your job search early to maximize your options. Anis Rehman, M.D., was able to go on several in-person interviews to find his job. - Photo by Ben Romang

One perk of being a physician is that your services are needed everywhere, from sleepy bedroom communities to skyscraper-dotted cities. Combined with the current physician shortage, that means the employment outlook is good. That’s why many physicians see the job hunt as an adventure with endless directions to explore. But as with most major life decisions, careful planning is still necessary.

"Start early in searching for your next dream job. Medicine has a lot of flexibility. There is a job for you as long as you are prepared and ready," suggests Anis Rehman, M.D., assistant professor at Southern Illinois University Medicine in Springfield, Illinois.

Where to?

You’re ready to move along in your career. Sometimes, the next step is easy: You know where you want to move, and job opportunities are plentiful. Other times, it’s overwhelming: You’re considering jobs all over the country, and almost daily, you change your mind about where you want to end up.

So, how to choose? The answer differs for everyone.

"A relocation depends on each person’s priorities, such as location, family, weather, salary, local connections and urban or rural lifestyle," says Rehman, who moved to Illinois from Cincinnati, Ohio, after his endocrine fellowship.

Rehman took his time deciding where to move. "I did 40 telephone interviews and eight in-person interviews," he recalls, adding that PracticeLink was an essential resource.

To find the right place for you, start with pen and paper. First, describe the perfect job. Consider it from all angles: the type of work you’d be doing, the patient demographics, the practice setting, the prestige of the organization, the opportunities for growth, the financial compensation and more.

Next, push the actual job to the back burner and consider other aspects of your life. Do you prefer a city setting or a rural one? Being near the mountains or the ocean? A traditional vibe or an eclectic one? Do nearby religious, sports, fitness, dining or arts and entertainment options matter to you? What do your family members want and need in terms of school, daycare, senior services, hobbies, clubs and recreation? Include everything that matters to you and your family.

Once you’ve completed your lists, sort the items by importance: things that are must-haves, things that would be nice to have and things you’d be OK without. Strive for balance as you rank. Don’t prioritize professional criteria at the expense of personal preferences or hobbies. Once the excitement of a new job wears off, you’ll want the other areas of your life to be enjoyable.

Finally, make a shorter list of dealbreakers. It should include any criteria that would completely put the brakes on a certain destination. These could be major factors, such as the crime rate or the job market for your significant other - or something personal, such as a serious distaste for snow. Value all input here, whether it’s from your significant other, your children or that little voice inside your head.

Work together

You’ve probably heard stories about couples who live in two different states because one partner didn’t want to move for the other’s new job. Unless both partners are on board with relocating, you could be facing excessive travel, separate living situations and a massive strain on the relationship. If you’ll be moving with a spouse or significant other, make sure you agree about where you want to live.

Involve your companion from the start. Invite him or her to make their own lists of must-haves, nice-to-haves and dealbreakers, in addition to doing preliminary research on jobs, educational opportunities or other important considerations.

"Explore the dimensions of what matters most in location preferences, and openly discuss [your] hopes and assumptions," suggests Peter Nalin, M.D., department head of family medicine and biobehavioral health at University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus.

If you can’t initially come to an agreement, continue the discussions. "Determine whether the sentiment is fixed or adaptable. [Talk to] others who may have encountered a similar dilemma," Nalin says.

It may help to consider your mutual interests. "It could help to have shared experiences in the area or comparable areas," explains Nalin. For example, if you’re avid skiers and hikers, choose a location close to hiking and skiing destinations. If you’ve both longed to live by the sea, consider a coastal destination.

Weigh your obligations

Before plowing ahead, check any obligations - such as a lease, job commitments or important upcoming events - that might affect your timeline. This includes your current contract if you’re already employed.

Specifically, make sure to check the restrictive covenant and required length of termination notice. The restrictive covenant may limit where you can work geographically and who you can work for. The length of termination notice will dictate how much time you need to give your current employer before leaving. This is important to know before settling on your next start date.

It may help to have an attorney who specializes in physician contracts review your contract to help you prepare for departure. Be prepared to honor anything you agreed to. It’s important not to burn bridges as you move forward in your career.

Get to know the area

Once you’ve narrowed down to a shortlist of regions, trade the pen and paper for your keyboard. Look up town websites, local school district websites, community newspapers, social media groups, etc. Any type of online presence may reveal information about the area and give you new directions to explore.

"Reading online blogs or talking to friends about the new city or town you are moving to is helpful," says Rehman. If you don’t know anyone in the potential areas, ask your colleagues for referrals, check around on LinkedIn or ask your alumni association.

Just as with your college and med school searches, there’s nothing like visiting in person to help you imagine yourself somewhere. The same goes for your spouse or significant other. Find a way to visit together, either by taking a weekend trip at your own expense or adding an extra day or two to an interview.

Another factor to consider when exploring a region is the overall market. This was a lesson Daquesha Chever, D.O., an urgent care physician in Georgia, learned after moving to Atlanta. She initially enjoyed her new job, but three years into it, things had changed. She started looking for her next step.

"Luckily, in Atlanta, there were plenty [of options] and I found another good job," she says. "But I initially hadn’t thought of making sure that a location has plenty of other places to work. Make sure the area you are looking into has some backup plans."

Set your salary expectations

Salaries vary all around the country, so you’ll need to do research to set your expectations correctly. The region itself, the demand for your specialty, area demographics, your unique training and the number of years you’ve been in practice will all affect your salary. Many reputable organizations prepare annual reports of physician salaries to help you in your research.

"Look at Medical Group Management Association [MGMA] and AMA surveys," suggests Nalin. "Also, specialty society surveys, estimates from recruiters and alumni as well as open-source internet searches."

Medscape’s Physician Compensation Report is another popular resource for comparing salaries by state and specialty. You’ve worked hard to get to this point in your career, so take time to research a fair salary before you negotiate.

Evaluating an offer

Salary is a pivotal element to any job choice, but when you’re relocating, you have to adjust the figure in relation to where you’ll be living. A generous offer may not be as good as it seems if it’s in an area with a high cost of living. Conversely, a modest offer may stretch much further in an affordable area. A cost-of-living calculator (readily available online) is the best way to compare salaries across regions, while taking into account common factors such as food, transportation and housing.

First, plug your current location into the calculator to establish a baseline. Then compare this to different areas and observe the fluctuations in related expenses. Don’t be surprised if you end up ruling out one area or taking a closer look at another.

Also check into each state’s malpractice insurance requirements, which vary across the country. This could have a significant effect on your paycheck, so be prepared to negotiate this with your prospective employer.

Once you’ve gathered information, consider where you’ll be living in relation to the job. "Consider traffic, commute time, subway costs, offices to travel between. These all come out of your salary and time," says Chever.

Daquesha Chever, D.O.
Love an area? Make sure you understand all your options for employment there, recommends Daquesha Chever, D.O. - Photo by Joey Wallace

Who’s paying for what?

Moving can be expensive, but your employer may cover some of the costs. Thanks to the high demand for physicians, relocation packages have become competitive. According to a 2019 Merritt Hawkins report, the average physician relocation bonus is $10,393. Don’t be afraid to ask about this early in the process. Some employers will set you up with moving services and vendors, while others will reimburse a specific amount of expenses.

If you have an offer in hand, it will spell out what expenses are covered, any spending limits and whether or not you get to keep funds you don’t use. Even if you don’t have an offer yet, you can still gather information.

"Do your homework and get your own quotes, so you will have an idea to help you decide if your future employer is offering enough money," says Chever.

Employers are most likely to reimburse expenses directly associated with moving, such as a van or freight service, gas and/or air travel, expenses related to transferring your medical license and any initial stay at a hotel and dining. Don’t be afraid to ask about other costs that will pose a significant burden to you.

"Employers don’t always realize what’s important to you or what other costs you’re facing: deposits for rent, utilities, taxes, memberships at gyms or other things you are used to having at your disposal," Chever explains. "Don’t be afraid to speak up if your relocation package isn’t going to go far enough. There’s no harm in asking."

Be sure you completely understand the terms of your relocation bonus. Sometimes, there is a stipulation that if you leave the company before a certain number of months, you’ll be required to pay it back.

Also, don’t forget about Uncle Sam. Find out if the financial allocation is taxable income. If so, adjust your plans accordingly. And while your employer’s contribution is helpful, you should still expect to incur extra expenses over those first several months as you furnish your new place, purchase clothing for a new climate, stock food and supplies in your new kitchen, paint, decorate and/or renovate your home, etc. Establishing a budget early can keep these costs from creeping out of control.

It takes a village

It takes a lot to transform your new destination into a home. Enlist local resources for a smoother transition.

First, you’ll need a place to live. Whether you’re buying or renting, ask around to find a real estate agent established in your destination. In larger cities, you may locate someone who regularly works with physicians, such as Monique Bryher of The-Doctors-Daughter.com.

"It can be helpful to work with a realtor who understands the lifestyle of a doctor and is not just there for a commission," Bryher says. "Some doctors may never have owned a house before. They need someone to counsel and educate, particularly if it’s a new area. [Buying a house] is an investment. It can grow like stock."

Another great resource is the local chamber of commerce. They’ll be able to provide you with information about the area, its residents and local businesses. They can also provide referrals for many of the services you may need in the first year, such as professionals for home repairs, tax and legal matters or childcare.

Local medical schools may also help you make connections, learn about regional issues and identify relevant services and organizations.

Think about your family members’ needs, too. Lining up children’s sports and activities, pet care, volunteer opportunities, networking groups and/or meetings with recruiters before the move can help their transition. If your children are computer-savvy, encourage them to do some of this research on their own to build enthusiasm.

Enlist friends and pizza

No matter how much you own, packing up and cleaning out a home can be one of the hardest parts of moving.

To complicate things, there’s often a gap between your move-out and move-in days. In this case, plan ahead to rent a storage unit for items you can’t keep in your short-term living space.

In a perfect world, you’d be able to sort and pack over multiple weekends. Ask family and friends to help as you categorize your things as trash, donations and keepers. If time permits, a moving sale can be a quick way to put cash in your pocket, while lightening the load in your moving van.

However, if you’re like most busy professionals, you may not have time to pack until the eleventh hour. If you’re a procrastinator or just happier to turn over the task, get a quote for a moving service. Be sure to check if this expense is covered by your new employer.

Remember to take care with any item that’s difficult to replace or that you don’t want to fall into the wrong hands. This includes important paperwork, family heirlooms and professional documentation. Ideally, you’d pack these things into something you can transport yourself, rather than sending them along with the moving service.

Stay organized

Whether you’re moving solo from a studio apartment or selling a house and relocating an entire family, keeping all the details in one place will minimize stress and surprises. Rely on whatever organizational system has always worked for you, whether you love lists, digital calendars or paper agendas. Here are some key details to plan out:

  • The home you’re leaving: Turn off utilities. Stop the mail with a forwarding address. Schedule a moving company. Hire a cleaning service. Hire help to watch pets/children on moving day. Turn over the keys.
  • Your personal business: Change banks. Switch your medical license. Adjust recurring payments. Close out bills. Obtain copies of health records. Update your driver’s license. Identify religious facilities.
  • The actual move: Book flights. Hire a moving company. Rent a storage unit if needed. Gas up the car. Confirm pet transportation.
  • Your family: Obtain school records, and enroll children in new schools and/or daycare centers. Seek out relevant extracurricular opportunities. Purchase new tags or update microchips for any pets.
  • Your new home: Turn on utilities. Purchase pantry staples or arrange for delivery. Schedule repairs or cosmetic work. Hire routine services, such as lawn care or snow removal.
  • General errands: Order moving supplies or get empty boxes at the supermarket. Clean out closets and basements. Pack. Donate unwanted items. Organize a yard sale.

While staying organized is key, take care not to become too much of a perfectionist. Mistakes are part of the process, and most can be corrected. Once you’re familiar with the area, you can made adjustments as needed.

Moving is regularly listed as one of life’s top 10 most stressful events, as is changing jobs. Combine the two by relocating for a job, and you’re bound to have some restless nights. Don’t worry. Do your best to research and plan, and things will begin to fall into place.

Once your relocation is imminent, take a day or two to relax and enjoy the area you’ll be leaving. Similarly, plan some downtime after the move but before you start your new job to recharge and get acquainted with your new area. Finding that perfect coffee shop en route to your new job will make your new commute that much brighter!



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