WalletHub is an online financial service based in Washington, D.C., which is owned by Evolution Finance, Inc. In addition to offering consumers financial tools for tasks such as credit monitoring and figuring out the costs of various goods and services, it frequently conducts surveys and publishes ratings on many topics.
It recently did a survey on obesity and food to find the fattest cities in the U.S. (McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, was the fattest; the combined Bridgeport-Norwalk-Stamford area ranked 87th). It also ranked the best big cities for college basketball fans (Los Angeles was at the top) and the most federally dependent states (New Mexico took top honors in that one).
Now, one of its studies has determined that New York is the worst place in the U.S. in which a doctor can be practicing. WalletHub ranks New York at No. 51, just behind the District of Columbia. Connecticut ranks not much better at No. 47.
But, does WalletHub’s survey have physicians in Westchester and Fairfield counties packing their bags and catching the first bus for Montana, first on its list of states most hospitable for a doctor’s practice? Not from what the Business Journal was able to determine.
In trying to determine where the best conditions are for doctors to practice in the U.S., WalletHub looked at 18 metrics across two key dimensions, “Opportunity & Competition” and “Medical Environment.” The data included diverse items such as the average annual wage of physicians, the number of hospitals per capita and the quality of the public hospital system. It gathered statistics on the number of doctors who had done their residency in each state and subsequently stayed there and opened up a practice.
Among the other elements examined by WalletHub were the number of continuing-education credits a state required a practicing physician to obtain in order to maintain his or her license, state medical licensing practices, the level of state disciplinary action against doctors and malpractice insurance rates.
“I think we have some of the best facilities in Connecticut and New York. They’re state of the art. They’re modern. We have the latest cutting-edge equipment as well as services and specialists available at our fingertips,” Camelia Lawrence told the Business Journal. She was recently elected to the board of trustees of the Fairfield County Medical Association. “It’s important for the community as a whole to take steps to ensure that a favorable environment exists for physicians who want to practice and want to stay because you want to have access to the specialists and make quick appointments.”
Lawrence has experience with medicine in both Connecticut and New York. She’s the director of breast surgery at the Hospital of Central Connecticut and earned her medical degree from the Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, completing her general surgery residency at the Western Medical Center/New York Medical College.
“The average medical student is graduating with a debt of over $175,000, so when you’re looking to get started you’re kind of starting from behind,” Lawrence said. She noted that medical schools seldom prepare students for dealing with the financial piece of starting and maintaining a practice. “There’s a huge financial component that I think physicians are forced to at least consider.” She said that a state where the cost of living is comparatively high and malpractice insurance is a major expense can be less attractive for some physicians.
Jason Shuker is associate medical director at the Westmed Medical Group which has its headquarters in Purchase and multiple facilities in Westchester and Connecticut. Dr. Shuker is the lead physician managing all of Westmed Medical Group’s six Urgent Care Centers in Westchester and Greenwich, in addition to the group’s Immediate Care location in Stamford.
“While I am surprised to see New York and Connecticut are ranked poorly, I am encouraged to know that every day I come to work (and) I see the people we help, the system that supports our patients and our staff and clinical providers, and the leadership that is directing the (Westmed) group to the future. I feel lucky to be a part of this system and I can’t imagine a better place to be.”
He told the Business Journal that medical results provide clear evidence demonstrating that practicing in Westchester is rewarding. “Access to great care from primary to subspecialty care is abundant and allows me to provide the best care to patients who have chosen me to take care of them.” He gave an example of an elderly patient “with multiple medical issues who might otherwise be sent to a hospital for the acute problem he presented, was able to be seen in one department, have lab work and radiological tests performed, and then specialists were consulted via our HIPAA-compliant messaging systems. A plan of care to keep that patient out of the hospital can be developed, which benefits the patient and the larger system,” he said.
Yili Huang specializes in pain management and anesthesiology at Phelps Hospital Northwell Health and Northwell Physician Partners in Sleepy Hollow. He does not believe that New York is the worst state for a physician’s practice. “I think it is one of the best. I trained and practiced at Yale in Connecticut, trained in New York City and now practice in Westchester,” he said.
Huang suggested that one reason for New York being rated so low by WalletHub may be the highly competitive nature of the medicine practiced in the state. “Our communities, our patients and the relative surplus of physicians in New York demand that we practice the best, most evidence-based, most innovative medicine. It forces us to stay on our toes, gives us access to each other and true thought leaders and pioneers in our fields.”
Huang says doctors who were born, raised or studied in New York or Connecticut will want to stay close to their support systems of family and friends. “This is especially true for a physician who encounters high stress and experiences burnout. Many of my colleagues who moved away from New York tell me that they end up just spending all their vacations visiting New York to be close to family and friends. Why not just live and practice here?”