Saturday, February 20, 2010

Physician Recruitment: Salem is So-Lame

While the Salem area is enjoying a bit of a renaissance among some younger professionals, creatives, and the tech savvy, it remains a difficult sell for many.

In today's Statesman, Ruth Liao writes about changing patterns in local physician employment and insurance policies that affect the supply of healthcare. The delivery isn't paying for physicians, and consequently the supply is thinning for patients.

In the face of a diminishing supply, Liao also writes that recruiting new doctors is increasingly difficult:
Dean Larsen, executive director of the Marion-Polk County Medical Society, said the problem of finding a doctor as a new patient is not limited to those on Medicare, but any kind of health insurance.

"The reality is, we don't have enough doctors regardless of your insurance," he said.

Recruiting is further challenging because of an overall shortage of doctors — in 2009, 16,000 physicians graduated from medical school nationwide. Less than 20 percent of those graduates are in primary care, which includes family medicine, pediatrics or internists, Larsen said.

"The pipeline's not big enough," he said.

Promoting the Salem area to incoming physicians can be challenging: The cost of living in Salem is comparable to other parts of the U.S.; reimbursements are lower in small-population states such as Oregon; and Salem's demographic size can be a tough sell to a new medical school graduate from Chicago, Seattle or New York.

"Salem looks very rural," Larsen said.

There it is. Salem looks like a back-water to highly skilled professionals coming from more urban environments. There are many reasons for this, of course, and we cannot discuss them in any meaningfully comprehensive manner. But one element common to both New York and Chicago, and also now to Seattle with new Mayor and bicyclist Mike McGinn, is that all of these cities are more bike- and transit-friendly than is Salem.

A bike-friendly city correlates to a strong transportation infrastructure and to a high quality of life. Bicycling is not a frill and it is not a fringey activity for the freaks. It is, on the contrary, a core activity for great cities and a significant attraction for highly skilled professionals.

Improving Salem's bicycling infrastructure and bike culture should be part of its overall economic strategy and its package for prospective professionals like physicians. It will take more than just this, of course, but a core commitment to a multi-modal transportation system should be part of it. Salem needs to look to the challenges of the 21st century, not to nostalgia for the Eisenhower administration: We must plan for 2050, not like it's 1950.


Emily said...

Interesting. My husband's a doctor and we ended up here, but only because he was attracted to the practice, not out of any particular love of Salem. I've since come to find my place here, but not without some major searching! Strangely, Salem houses keep getting featured on the Today Show as best buys across the nation.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Well, dang! You're perfectly positioned to comment on the matter!

I wish folks would talk more about recruitment and workforce in biz dev conversation. I've learned from one fairly large business owner than 5/6 or 6/7 (the fraction involved 6 and n+1, and I can't remember whether it was numerator or denominator!) of his most highly compensated employees chose to live out of Salem. A huge proportion of state workers commute from Portland. There's also some non-trivial proportion of city mid- and upper-managers who don't live in Salem. Folks should talk more about this problem.

At the same time, you don't want unnecessarily to denigrate Salem - where's that reasonable and critical boosterism that keeps on this side of outlandishly naive claims for Salem's greatness?

I appreciate DSS and its contribution to that conversation! Like highlighting Hallie Ford - it's a gem that doesn't overreach, a perfectly proportioned stone of modest greatness! But it's still kinda lost here. The Oregonian writes about it way more than the Statesman.

Emily said...

Yes, and I think that's a shame (not covering Hallie Ford). We like to see ourselves as among a new breed of young family that refuses to spend our money on gas when we could spend it on food! No really, we actually moved from West Salem to NE Salem to be 10 minutes closer to hubby's work. It's been worth the 4-minute, and when the weather's nice, the 12-minute biking, commute. Maybe I should do a column on this?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Of course, we think it's always a good idea to write about bicycling!

If you want some newspegs, hit me with an email - salembikes at gmail dot com