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August 18, 2021

Live & Practice: Sports Towns 2021

Jill Alexander, M.D.
Jill Alexander, M.D., is a third-generation physician at McFarland Clinic. – Photograph by Katie Decker.

For big sports fans, it’s not just about the game. Sports contribute to a sense of community and shared excitement. In South Bend, Indiana, a love of Notre Dame sports is practically in the town’s DNA. In Tampa, Florida, residents feel the love for the Buccaneers and have a local affinity for the outdoor sports that are part of their coastal culture. In Charlottesville, Virginia, UVA sports are a huge draw, and fans dress up for weekend football games. In Ames, Iowa, Iowa State unites a small town in an outsized way, bringing culture and Big 12 competitors to central Iowa.

Ames, Iowa

Ames, Iowa, is located smack-dab in the center of the state. And in a way, Ames feels like its own small universe. Ames is home to Iowa State University, a university in the Big 12 sports conference. Ames has a population of 66,000, but the town gains additional culture, diversity, arts and entertainment opportunities from being home to Iowa State University. The town’s population grows by 50 percent when school is in session and, by extension, swells with sports fans.

When Jill Alexander, M.D., was a girl, she would go with her father, an obstetrician, to the hospital. "Back in those days, I could even tag along" as her father rounded, she says. Alexander loved seeing the newborn babies and grew up knowing she wanted to be a pediatrician. "I spent lots of time around kids growing up babysitting and volunteering. Pediatrics was a natural path for me," says Alexander. "It is such a privilege to be a part of people’s lives and care for their children. I love working with families from that first visit with their tiny newborn baby until I am signing their physical form for college. What an amazing job I have!"

Alexander is a highly enthusiastic pediatrician and the clinic recruitment medical director at McFarland Clinic, a multi-specialty clinic in Ames. "My grandfather was one of the original founders of the clinic back in 1946, and I am now a third-generation physician here," she says. "I am honored to be part of this legacy."

Alexander was born and raised in Ames. She attended Cornell College in Iowa for her undergraduate degree in chemistry and earned her M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine. She completed her residency in pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. Alexander is one-half of a two-physician couple; she and her husband spent two years in Iowa City, where her husband completed a fellowship in nephrology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. During that time, they thought about where they wanted to put down roots and raise a family. It was an easy decision to return to Ames.

"I love living in Ames," Alexander says. "Having a Big 12 university in town brings us diversity, culture, arts, sports and people from all over the world. I love the hustle and bustle when the students arrive back on campus in the fall. And I also love it when many head home for the summer and we get that smaller town feel."

The McFarland Clinic was founded in 1946. "McFarland Clinic partners with hospitals in the different communities where we have practices. We are not affiliated with a specific hospital but work to secure working partnerships with the common goal of serving our patients and communities where we are needed," says Jane Eagan, physician recruitment manager for McFarland Clinic.

Retention is unusually high at McFarland Clinic, says Eagan. "Many of our physicians have joined McFarland Clinic as their first job out of training and 30 years later retire after having an amazing career. Longevity in our provider group and staff is incredible. When folks stay that long at one place, you know they are doing many things right." Eagan says that because McFarland Clinic is physician-led, there are plenty of opportunities for physicians to hold leadership positions. Eagan is currently recruiting for allergy, immunology, anesthesiology, cardiology, dermatology, family medicine, gastroenterology, internal medicine, neurology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, pulmonology and urology.

The organization is innovative in its approach to work/life balance. For her clinical duties, Alexander has a job-share arrangement with another pediatrician. "As a two-physician couple, I wanted more time at home with the kids, and me being part-time allowed us that flexibility," says Alexander.

Eagan says that Ames has plenty of culture to enjoy outside of work. Says Eagan, "Ames is a great community that caters to residents of all ages. Ames is a Big 12 college community, Iowa State University, which means there is no lack of university activities to enjoy, whether that is sports, academic or culturally related. The university brings a youthful liveliness to our community. It also encourages us to remain on the cutting edge to keep the students here and keep the university thriving."

Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia, is an area with a lot of local pride. Those native to Charlottesville grow up with Revolutionary War history as part of their culture, and University of Virginia students and staff are swiftly introduced to the Jeffersonian traditions of the University of Virginia. UVA football is more than just a popular weekend activity in the area - it is a Southern tradition involving semi-formal attire and hats, even for the undergraduates! Charlottesville is hugged by the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park, meaning it is surrounded by a breathtaking panorama of mountains.

"I was born and raised in Charlottesville, moved away and moved back specifically to work with UVA. Charlottesville is a wonderful place to live and to raise your family," says Ellen Gilliland, physician recruiter and credentialing coordinator for the University of Virginia Physicians Group. "Charlottesville offers so much for families. You have the mountains for hiking. You are within a little over two hours to the beaches. You have the university here. It’s just tremendous growth that’s going on in Charlottesville."

"The University of Virginia has a profound influence on the culture in Charlottesville and Albemarle County," says Courtney Cacatian, executive director of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The energy swells in the region when the students return in the fall."

Charlottesville is home to historic sites like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Monroe’s Highland and James Madison’s Montpelier. The area’s Downtown Mall is also notable: It is one of the oldest and longest pedestrian malls in the country. The Downtown Mall is packed with shops, clothing boutiques, bookstores, coffee shops and restaurants. Says Cacatian, "Our community boasts an impressive culinary scene with locally-owned, farm-to-table restaurants you would expect to see in a city twice its size. The arts thrive here with theaters, entertainment venues, art galleries and museums."

When Gilliland is talking to job candidates about Charlottesville, she is quick to mention the appeal of the upscale college town. Says Gilliland, "Charlottesville offers great restaurants; the downtown area is really alive with things to do."

"Football weekends are huge in the Charlottesville area, attracting visitors from all over to attend an exciting game at Scott Stadium," says Cacatian. "Throughout the year, the university also hosts special events such as reunions and final exercises (graduation ceremonies) that keep us bustling and energized."

There are over 900 University of Virginia clinical faculty members who are dually employed between UVA and the UVA School of Medicine. Says Gilliland, "The University of Virginia Health System Physicians Group is under UVA Health. We support the practices in the community. We are continuing to grow, expanding out across Charlottesville."

UVA Health is a physician-led organization, and Gilliland says that is evident in the day-to-day lives of their physicians. She says, "We support our physicians administratively as well as professionally and clinically."

Outside of work, physicians will have no problem keeping busy, especially if they tend to be outdoorsy. Says Cacatian, "We are a two-river destination with the broad James River flowing on our southern county border and the Rivanna River winding its way to within 1.5 miles of downtown Charlottesville. Popular activities on the river include tubing, kayaking, canoeing and even fly fishing. Outfitters are available at both rivers to provide visitors and residents with everything they need for a fun day on or near the water." The area is also home to several golf courses, and hiking is hugely popular in this part of Virginia: Charlottesville is less than a 30-minute drive from the spot where the Blue Ridge Parkway meets with Skyline Drive, taking visitors into Shenandoah National Park.

For those who enjoy getting outside but do not consider themselves sporty, there is still a great option: the Monticello Wine Trail connects 40 wineries and offers that awe-inspiring, sweeping view of the nearby mountain ranges.

Tampa, Florida

2020 was a banner year for Tampa’s professional sports, and Tampa fans are still basking in their glory. Fun fact: Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady lives in a waterside mansion on Tampa Bay, a mile from downtown Tampa. He rents the mansion from baseball legend Derek Jeter. Tampa has the feel of a coastal city: Tampa streets are lined with palm trees and the city has virtually year-round sunny, warm weather. (The summers are hot and humid, but it is to be expected; it is south Florida).

When Olufunke Abiose, M.D., was a child, her sister had a nearly fatal asthma attack. Abiose says, "I was intrigued by the complexity of the human body and the ease with which ’this very tall man in a white coat’ was able to quickly diagnose and treat my sister. It was in that moment that I felt a calling in my life to become that ’healer.’"

Abiose’s faith shaped her medical education and influences the way she approaches her work each day. "I chose Creighton University [in Omaha] and Saint Louis University School of Medicine for medical training and residency respectively, because they were faith-based," she says.

Now, she is an OB-GYN with AdventHealth, one of the largest faith-based nonprofit health systems in the country. AdventHealth has a significant presence in Tampa, where Abiose lives and practices. "I was seeking a not-for-profit Christian organization, as my faith is the most valuable thing in my life, followed by loved ones. Having an opportunity to openly express faith and pray with my patients has made my career more fulfilling," says Abiose.

There are 11 AdventHealth hospitals in west Florida. The flagship, AdventHealth Tampa, is a 536-bed facility. And they are still building. Says Kirsten Quinlan, a physician recruiter for AdventHealth West Florida division, "We are building the Taneja Center for Innovative Surgery, a new surgical tower opening later in 2021 which will have 18 operating rooms and 96 additional private rooms on six floors." All 11 hospitals in AdventHealth’s West Florida division have da Vinci robots.

Abiose is glad to have landed in Tampa. "Tampa is a great small town with a big city feel! It has all the bells and whistles including cultural diversity and great culinary offerings sure to satisfy anyone’s palate. There are lots of fun indoor and outdoor activities for people from all walks of life including hiking, biking and amusement parks like Disney. World-class family vacation destinations are one hour away! Tampa also has some of the best beaches in the country and hosts championship-winning sports teams including football, baseball and hockey."

Says Quinlan, "As a newcomer to Florida last year, I highly recommend the Tampa area to live. There is so much to do here! From manatee watching in Crystal River, horse country in Ocala, auto racing in Sebring, to Tampa’s sports teams in 2020." Indeed, 2020 was a big year for Tampa athletics: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became Super Bowl Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning became two-time Stanley Cup winners, and the Tampa Bay Rays went to the World Series.

John Whitney, M.D.
"South Bend is a nice variety of having plenty of things to do with ease of living," says John Whitney, M.D. – Photograph by Cari Clark.

South Bend, Indiana

South Bend, Indiana, a "gem of the upper Midwest," is home to the University of Notre Dame. For physicians, South Bend also carries a varied and diverse patient population full of "Midwest nice" patients and interesting pathology.

John Whitney, M.D., knew early on that he wanted to be a physician. "It started in high school for me when I started to fall in love with biology and realized, ’Wow, I want to keep learning for the rest of my life.’ I also had more and more interest in working with people."

Whitney is from Texas, but he went to Indiana for college and enjoyed it. He attended college at Taylor University in Indiana. He returned to Texas for medical school at Texas Tech University. And back he came to Indiana for the Memorial Hospital family medicine residency with the Beacon Health System in South Bend. Upon completing his residency, he joined the practice.

Beacon Health System was a fit for Whitney because it matches his values and professional goals. "My Christian faith really became my own at that point," he says. "There’s always the temptation to be more motivated by money or prestige or respect, but what has brought me through all the changes I’ve seen in medicine is that care for people and the privilege of being able to use knowledge to care for others."

What Whitney enjoys most about his career is the relationship element. He says, "One nice thing about family medicine is building the relationship. In primary care, I see myself as an information broker. I’m the point of contact between patients accessing their whole medical universe. A lot of that work is translating the information and guiding that path."

In fact, making medical information accessible to his patients is one of Whitney’s main drivers in his career.

Whitney sees a varied patient population. He says, "South Bend is more than just a college town; it has a lot of history as well. I like that mixture, especially working for a health system. While there’s a lot of need here, there are a lot of resources to enable us to give good care."

Beacon Health System has over 70 inpatient and outpatient locations in Indiana; Beacon Health System is licensed for 750 beds. The system has two anchor hospitals: Memorial Hospital of South Bend and Elkhart General Hospital.

Caren Foster, director of physician recruiter for Beacon Health System, says that Beacon works to keep their hospitals updated with cutting-edge equipment and renovated facilities. Says Foster, "The list is extensive. We were the first in North America to have a NICU where mothers and babies can room-in together. Our robotics includes two da Vinci Xi Robots, plus the latest robots for neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery." Foster is currently recruiting for primary care, neurology, cardiology, psychiatry, orthopedics, ENT and pediatric sub-specialties.

Says Foster, "I love the area with so much to do. I can go on for hours, but the gem is really the people! It’s the ’Midwestern nice’ that you can’t beat anywhere."

Rob DeCleene, executive vice president of the South Bend Regional Chamber, says, "South Bend is a hidden upper Midwest gem. Our calling card is Notre Dame, and the sporting tradition is tied hand in hand with football."

In addition to Notre Dame, the South Bend area is also home to Saint Mary’s College, Holy Cross College, Indiana University South Bend, and Bethel University. During the academic year, the student population of South Bend is approximately 25,000.

"Being home to Notre Dame football, one of the most storied programs in college football history, is a very cool aspect of living here. That excitement rolls into college basketball - men’s and women’s basketball has a huge following here. That’s something that’s key. Notre Dame women’s sports are really popular. That’s a community asset," says DeCleene.

Whitney cites the ease of getting around and a less complicated lifestyle as some of South Bend’s major perks. "We like to go to Chicago and Indianapolis on day trips. We also make day trips to the Michigan beaches. The closest one is only 35 minutes away. My work is a 10-minute drive away and my son’s school is a 15-minute drive away. South Bend is a nice variety of having plenty of things to do with ease of living."

South Bend’s winter is not for the faint of heart, but there is still plenty to do, with sledding and tubing and cross-country skiing. Says DeCleene, "We do have winter. We can’t shy away from that. But we also get out and enjoy it."

Physicians new to South Bend will find themselves in good company, as health care is the second largest employment sector there. Says DeCleene, "Health care and education dominate the local employment market. It’s a very noticeable industry here. Being the regional population center, we have two primary hospitals and an extensive network of other health care providers."

DeCleene says that South Bend is just the right size to be able to make an impact. "You can make a difference here. You can really get involved in the community. You can help make change. You can get on non-profit boards. You can bring ideas from a community you might be from. We’re ripe for new ideas and everyone is encouraged to be involved here."



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