Ann Cheung, M.D., moved from Boston to the San Francisco Bay Area to begin her pediatric residency at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, drawn to California by the hospital’s excellent reputation and her desire to live on the West Coast.
But she didn’t realize the amount of planning it would take to move from the East Coast to the West.
While some physicians move to pursue new employment opportunities, others relocate to be closer to their families or to take on new career challenges presented by in-house hospital recruiters, physician recruitment agencies, alumni associations, professional membership organizations and more.
Though accepting a job as a physician in another city or state can be exciting, the actual move is often a time-consuming process. Considerations such as selling your existing home, securing new housing and transitioning your family to a new city can make it a challenge. Here’s how to make it less difficult.
Relocation assistance for physicians varies from one hospital system to the next, but doctors typically receive funding to help with their relocation, as well as guidance in locating a realtor. Throughout the interview process, you’ll find out (or have occasion to ask) what the relocation package entails, and what temporary housing and moving expenses are covered.
Many hospitals will also offer a list of preferred relocation vendors, such as moving companies. Using a preferred mover could cut down on the paperwork you’ll need to complete; if you choose a company on your own, you will be asked to submit receipts for reimbursement.
At Phelps Health, a nonprofit community hospital in Rolla, Missouri, physicians are offered a competitive compensation package that includes a three-year contract, $35,000 signing bonus, a stipend from contract to starting date, and a $3,000 monthly student loan repayment, among other benefits.
"For physicians moving to the area, we also offer a $15,000 relocation package," says Elizabeth Hedrick, senior physician recruitment and business development specialist at Phelps Health. "Because we’re a rural area, our compensation package is very competitive and includes helping physicians get their student loans paid off and enjoying 30 paid vacation days each year."
In addition to relocation expenses, some hospitals offer physicians housing assistance.
"All of our residents are offered a $2,400 moving stipend and a $3,000 yearly housing stipend," says Pamela Simms-Mackey, M.D., FAAP, director of the GME and Pediatric Residency Program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in California. "Both are in their union contract, which is up for negotiation this year, and I expect that amount to increase as housing costs have increased over the past three years."
Before you plan to move however, you must successfully complete the interview process.
When applying for a job opportunity in another city or state, your initial interview will probably be conducted via phone or Skype. If that goes well, you’ll be invited to an in-person site interview to meet the team. These kinds of visits may include a tour of the facility and one to two days of interviewing with administrators as well as other physicians and colleagues.
As you schedule and complete the site visit, be prepared to be screened, background checked and asked for professional references.
The on-site job interview gives you an opportunity to determine if you are a good fit with the hospital, the team and the new community. It is important to arrive prepared. Conduct background research on the hospital or medical group you are interviewing with in order to ask specific questions about your role, expectations for the job and what your schedule might look like.
Autumn Ashcraft, provider recruitment manager for Borrego Health in Escondido, California, says it is important for physicians to remember that interviews are a two-way process. That means you should be prepared to not only answer questions, but also to inquire about issues such as performance expectations, goals of the institution, and how your skills can help them meet their goals.
"Ask about the organizational culture and expectations such as productivity requirements," Ashcraft says. "It’s important for physicians to make sure they’re comfortable with their anticipated patient volume as well as the organization’s mission and vision."
Ashcraft says it can be advantageous for a new physician to ask if it is possible to speak with another provider in the same specialty area and even shadow them for a specific period of time.
She stresses that physicians should be clear about what they are looking for in a new opportunity, the colleagues they want to work with and the type of schedule they want to maintain. Additional questions may cover what electronic medical records systems and other technology are being used in the workplace in order for you to determine how steep the learning curve will be.
For physicians who are not sure about what to wear to the site visit, recruiters say it is fine to ask.
Hedrick encourages physicians to involve their spouses in the process by bringing them, and if appropriate, their children, on either the first or second site visit. Though family members do not sit in on the formal interview, Hedrick says it gives them a chance to tour the area and meet with a realtor.
"If people are unfamiliar with Rolla, they often envision a rural area where chickens and livestock are crossing the roads," Hedrick says. "The reality is we’re a college town that services six counties, so in-person visits can really give physicians and their families a clearer picture of what it’s like to live here and what the community has to offer."
Hedrick and other recruiters regularly recommend realtors who can offer physicians and their families tours of homes and neighborhoods. In addition, these local experts can provide information on public and private schools, safe neighborhoods, transportation options and more.
Realizing that relocation affects the entire family, physician recruiters often work to make relocation easier for everyone by sharing what it’s like to live in the area and connect them with local resources.
Brittany Kulp, senior medical staff recruiter at Tower Health in Allentown, Pennsylvania, says she frequently introduces a candidate’s spouse to the spouses of other physicians during a site visit. Families who have lived in the area for a longer period of time can answer questions about things to do in the city, schools, clubs, churches, and serve as familiar faces to those who are moving to a new area.
"Sometimes we’ll treat the physician and their family to a day at a local zoo or museum so they can experience the area firsthand," Kulp says. "It’s important to get the entire family’s buy-in and make sure everyone is happy in order to make the transition easier."
Kulp recommends allowing time to tour neighborhoods and explore the community while on a site visit, especially if it’s an area you’ve never visited before.
Research the city where you will be working to determine if you can see yourself and your family living there.
Once she accepted a job offer to move to the West Coast, Cheung began conducting price comparisons to determine whether it would be more cost effective to move her belongings, such as furniture, across the country or to buy new furniture in California.
And though she didn’t need a car in Boston, she knew she would need one to navigate the Bay Area.
"I spent a lot of time figuring out whether I wanted to lease a new car or purchase an older car," she says. "And since I accrued a lot of items between college, working and medical school, I used apps like LetGo to sell my belongings in order to save on costs."
With the average California home selling for more than $593,000, Cheung turned her sights to renting and found another resident who was familiar with the area and was also looking for a place to rent.
"Buying wasn’t possible with either of our budgets," Cheung says. "Fortunately, we were looking for similar things: a relatively short commute to work, safe neighborhood and reasonable price for the Bay Area. She was in the Bay Area so she would FaceTime me so I could look at potential apartments."
"Many of our residents have roommates or significant others that they split their rent with," Simms-Mackey says. "It’s rare for a resident to be able to afford to live alone or purchase a house in the Bay Area."
For physicians moving to another city or state, careful planning can serve to eliminate any potential surprises that might arise along the way.
Looking back on his move from Minnesota to Palmer Township, Pennsylvania, pediatrician David Burnham, M.D., wishes he had allowed for additional time in planning his move.
"I didn’t realize how long it would take to close on our new home in Pennsylvania or that obtaining medical licensure in a different state would take three months," Burnham says. "I mistakenly thought both processes would be similar to Minnesota."
Because they couldn’t move into their home right away, Burnham and his family lived in an extended stay hotel for three weeks after arriving in Pennsylvania and had to store their furniture and other belongings in a storage unit.
Although he is very happy in his new job and location, Burnham wishes he had started the job search process sooner and built in extra time for purchasing a home, obtaining licensure and becoming familiar with the new area. The timing, however, worked out.
"In retrospect, I’m glad we planned the move to coincide with our kids’ school schedule," says Burnham, whose kids are 12, 15 and 21. "They were able to finish the school year at their school in Minnesota and then start the new school year in Pennsylvania."
Thanks to the internet, researching the cost of living, potential housing, and different cities and states has never been easier.
Damon Davis, M.D., a urologist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, says he was able to conduct a lot of research online before he relocated from East Lansing, Michigan.
"I grew up in the Baltimore area, so while I was familiar with the area, I was also able to look up things online such as school rankings and test scores for my three children," Davis says. "I also connected with a realtor and supplemented that by looking at homes online and determining their proximity to the hospital and schools."
Sites such as NerdWallet.com offer a free cost of living calculator that compares the cost of living in a physician’s current city to the cost of living in cities where they are applying for jobs. Niche.com has rankings of the best school districts in the country and links to nearby homes.
Planning carefully for a move, embracing resources that can make the transition easier, and anticipating the issues that may arise can make the move easier for your whole family.