Loss of a job. Divorce. Illness. Death of a loved one. All rank high on the list of the most stressful life events.
And then there’s moving.
It’s so stress-inducing, there’s even an "I hate moving" Facebook page to vent about it. YouTube is full of videos of people lamenting about their dreaded move.
Most will agree that moving is no fun. But with every move there are lessons to be learned - lessons that can improve your next one.
Moving wasn’t too bad for David V. Evans, M.D., an assistant professor at the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Evans spent 15 years practicing family medicine at Madras Medical Group in Madras, Ore., before he, his physician wife and their two kids uprooted and headed for Seattle in April 2012.
"The relocation was as easy as it could be considering we had lived in Madras for almost 15 years. We sold our house without much difficulty. That was fortunate especially given the economy in Madras," says Evans. "The major challenges were being away from (my wife) Suzy and the kids for two and a half months and finding a house in Seattle."
Evans says his new employer paid for the bulk of the move. His employer also picked the movers, who "thankfully" packed the family’s boxes. They were given a moving allowance, which Evans says they exceeded, though they were "willing to pay the extra to do less work."
In his new job, Evans teaches family medicine in the residency program in addition to having a medical practice. Evans says he and his wife feel it was the right decision to move, adding, "so far so good." He enjoys the challenges of his new job as well as the people with whom he works.
For other physicians facing relocation, Evans recommends taking some time at both the job site and the community to see if the move is right for them. He points out that observing the work environment is important as well.
"Do people seem happy? Is it unnecessarily chaotic? Talk to staff, not just docs. Talk to spouses. Talk to patients. They often have a different insight and can tell you about living in the community," he says.
He also suggests asking to tour with a realtor as part of the interview. This allows time to discuss and discover community aspects such as schools, churches, activities and other factors that matter in the new location.
"Don’t fly in one day and out the next if you are unfamiliar with a place. Stay for a few days if you can," says Evans. "If you are still unsure, ask for a second interview even if the employer is ready to hire you. You are interviewing them as much as the other way around."
Of the physicians placed in 2011, 93 percent relocated to a new community for their new job, according to The Medicus Firm. That year, signing bonuses were offered to 88 percent of physicians placed, and relocation allowances increased.
When Julie Zacharias, D.O., was preparing for a move, she packed in a wedding as well. Zacharias moved from North Carolina to Nevada in 2011 to join Touro University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine (TUNCOM) as an assistant professor in the primary care department. Zacharias serves as a practicing physician providing on-site care at assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities and private homes.
How did her move go?
"Overall it was OK. I did not expect my belongings to take as long as it did to move out from North Carolina to Nevada - approximately two and a half weeks. It worked out OK because I had an extended stay in Texas," Zacharias says. "I got married in between moving from North Carolina to Nevada. I also was lucky to have someone on the receiving end to let the movers in. My fiancé had already settled into our new house and was available to sign for my belongings."
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Zacharias had planned to move to Las Vegas because her then-fiancé (now husband), who is in the military, was assigned there. She visited with a few of the faculty of Touro prior to interviewing and connected well with two physicians she met. She then set up an interview. Next was the move. She researched several different moving companies online, then arranged to have all her belongings shipped from North Carolina to Las Vegas.
"I had packed most of my belongings the week before the movers were supposed to arrive and placed all the boxes in my extra bedroom. I did have the movers pack dishes and picture frames," she says. "The actual move was pretty painless with movers. My fiancé flew out to North Carolina to help drive."
But like most moves, sometimes things don’t always go smoothly. She suggests letting movers pack most belongings. "It turns out that I am not the best packer, and a few things I packed ended up broken," she says.
She notes that even if the movers pack all your things, she would still recommend packing and transporting your important documents and jewelry yourself.
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She also wishes she had hired someone to professionally clean the townhome she was renting in North Carolina. "My fiancé and I spent several hours cleaning after the movers left, before an 11-hour drive," Zacharias says.
The total cost of her move was $1,100. She highly recommends that physicians do their research and compare prices when planning a move, adding, "It makes a big difference."
Physician recruiter Caroline Steffen, with DuPage Medical Group in Illinois, says physicians should call at least three moving companies before deciding which to use. Request estimates and references, and make sure they are bonded.
"A typical moving allowance is $7,500 to $10,000 to cover the cost of the move," Steffen says. "True costs can vary depending on how far you are moving and to what region of the country."
Steffen says that, in many cases, practices and hospitals in metropolitan areas will not provide physicians a relocation allowance. Nor if the physician is already living in the area, or if the relocation is because of a spouse’s new position. Rural and medium-sized communities, she says, are more likely to have a relocation allowance in their standard employment offer.
"Physicians who are moving to join a new employer need to remember that their move is the second transaction they are having with their employer; the first is negotiating the employment agreement," says Steffen. "How a physician handles the move with the employer can set the tone of the first few days at work."
Yes, moving can be stressful. But, Steffen says, physicians who are demanding, spend too much on their move, or have excessive special requests "can put a bad taste in an employer’s mouth and make them question if they hired the right individual."
Physicians with unique needs when moving should not expect their new employer to cover moving expenses of a sailboat, antique car or pool table, for example. Any special requests, she advises, should be brought up during the contract negotiation process so that it’s clear what will and won’t be covered in the moving allowance.
"Many employers have moving polices. Ask for a copy during contract negotiations so you have a clear understanding of what you are being offered in your moving allowance, and any restrictions there may be as well," Steffen says.
Fawaz Ahmad, M.D., just relocated from Baltimore to Chicago in July 2012 to join DuPage Medical Group as a hospitalist. His start date was a month later, following completion of his boards. Ahmad received a relocation stipend and picked his own movers. However, he realized after talking to several moving companies that many were unable to accommodate the dates he needed, despite his scheduling a month in advance, due to high demand during the end of the month. Ahmad used Yelp and other online reviews to research moving companies but ended up with a few that could accommodate his schedule.
"From a previous personal bad experience with in-town moves, I would highly recommend using an online review to research the movers you are hiring," Ahmad says. "I only packed our valuables and the few items that we would need through the month before we could move into our apartment. Everything else was packed by the movers."
Ahmad says it’s "very difficult to have a completely hectic-free relocation experience." His biggest unexpected surprise was that he was not able to find an apartment that he liked for the move date that he wanted because the rental market in Chicago was so competitive.
"And because we had to give two months’ notice with our current landlord, they had already leased our apartment and could not extend our lease," he says. "We ended up having a month overlap between our move-out and move-in date. This resulted in having to find temp housing for a month as well as having to negotiate storage costs for a month with our movers."
Sharon Dionne, a physician recruiter for St. Joseph Hospital in New Hampshire, has heard her share of moving horror stories from physicians. She recalls one physician who had extensive damage during a move. Another had water damage on items in storage. These events, however, happened years before the hospital entered into a national moving agreement. Now they work with United Van Lines through local carrier Diggins & Rose.
"They provide us with a discount and allow the physician to have them direct bill us to their max benefit," says Dionne. "The most important factor is to deal with a reputable mover, as mistakes can happen that can really be a problem, such as damaged goods and delays in schedules."
Sometimes things arrive broken or don’t go according to plan. She recommends that physicians purchase protection as part of the cost of their move to cover any damages.
"We have that automatically included in our agreement with United Van Lines. Normal packing and moving are included along with a car carrier, temporary housing, storage, etc., as long as they do not exceed their total benefit," Dionne says.
With so much focused on moving and unpacking, little time is often left for physicians to get settled in and acquainted with their new location. Ahmad had the advantage of already being familiar with Chicago, but says, "because of the boards, I haven’t had much time to enjoy Chicago or get settled in yet."
Evans, who moved with his wife and kids to Seattle, says they are still exploring the area. From previous experience, he says, "It takes about a year to really get settled into a new town."
Zacharias planned ahead so that she would have time to relax before she jumped into her new job in Las Vegas. "After I had officially moved in, I had planned to have about three weeks off prior to starting my new job, which helped quite a bit," she says. "Also, my husband had been in Las Vegas for several months already, which was great. In regards to work, Touro was great having the first few weeks be a settling-in period. I met with HR and had a few sessions learning the EMR, which helped when clinic started.”
Adriana Tobar, M.D., is a family medicine physician who lives in Illinois and commutes to her job at Dean Health System in Wisconsin. She originally moved with her husband and then-3-year-old daughter from Ecuador to New Jersey in 2001 to study for the boards. They lived in New Jersey for two years, then moved to Illinois in 2003. Though she did get a bonus when they moved to Illinois, they decided to pack themselves to save money and shipped a few items they had from New Jersey.
Moving was not entirely easy on her family.
"For physicians or residents who move, I think there are several stressors the family members struggle with that tend to be overlooked," Tobar says. "My husband helped quite a bit with exploring around, but it was very difficult initially for him. I was at work as a first-year resident, my daughter was at school, and he couldn’t work or study for six months until the visa was approved."
A support network helped them ease into their new location.
Often, joining activities and clubs, church groups, sports and cultural centers can help smooth a transition into a new town.
"When we arrived, there were three doctors - one from Dominican Republic, one from Venezuela and one from Argentina - who really helped us to not feel so alone and to settle down," Tobar says. "They were like family. I think it is extremely important to find a support system to help with the transition: church, sports, etc."
Moving can sometimes be tough on the family. That’s a topic "Jane" has blogged about on her anonymous blog, "From a Doctor’s Wife."
She started the blog during her husband’s fifth year of residency as a way to reach out to other wives and significant others who don’t have support networks, and also "as a way to scream into my pillow."
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Her family recently moved for a fellowship over the summer. She has a countdown clock widget on her website counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the fellowship ends.
"We have moved three times in eight years, with our fourth move coming next summer. For me, the worst part of moving has been driving across the country. Packing and unpacking is the easy part," says Jane. "I start the process earlier than most would, but it has proved invaluable every time. More work in the beginning means less work at the end."
For her last move, they sold their house a few months before they needed to relocate. Her husband stayed in student housing and she and their four kids went out of state to stay with family. The hospital for fellowship didn’t cover moving expenses, so they used PODS. They were provided a container to load and unload. She and her husband packed their own boxes and saved money using spare boxes her husband brought home from the hospital.
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"They drop off a box, we fill it over the course of several days, they pick it up, store it, and deliver it when we need it," Jane says. "For us, this method fit our budget, our storage needs, and meant we didn’t have to drive a truck or move between a storage unit and moving truck. In the end, our moving expenses for storage/transportation of the POD came in at about $3,200. We were very pleased."
Jane says moving so far has been fairly easy on her kids, ages 1 to 7, because they are still young. When they first arrived in their new city, the family made sure to explore the area and see all the fun things near which they lived.
"We sought out our church community as soon as we arrived, and have made friends there for ourselves and our children. Finding a local network of people to help you navigate a new city is priceless," says Jane. "We found out the best days to hit the children’s museum, what times to avoid grocery shopping, where to pick up the kids’ school uniforms inexpensively, and info on free things to do around the city."
Their next move will be for her husband’s first post-training job in summer 2013. Being super-organized has paid off. Having either donated unwanted items or boxed up, labeled and put aside items not in use, Jane doesn’t feel concerned or stressed about the next move.
"We did so much work this last time I think we will be in a position to say, ’Box it up, it all goes,’" says Jane. "Movers will most likely be included in our offer, but we could easily do it ourselves - and honestly, we probably will. I like knowing what is in the boxes!"
Keeping a positive outlook and sense of humor can help keep the moving woes at bay. So can keeping in mind that moving is a temporary situation that will bring you to your next stage in your career and life. Being well-organized and preparing in advance can go a long way in making the move smoother and less stressful.