Letters from Maine

A state of mind


Are you happy with your current situation? Do you enjoy your job and look forward to getting home at the end of the day? Or, do you find your work unrewarding? Do you consider your home simply a place to wait impatiently until you can hop on a plane for your next getaway vacation?

wellesenterprises/Getty Images

"Welcome to Montana" sign along a highway.

Maybe you should consider relocating to Montana. According to the headline in an article by Richard Franki in Pediatric News (“Montana named ‘best state to practice medicine’ in 2019,” Mar. 28, 2019) the Treasure State is currently the best state to practice medicine. Big Sky Country earned this distinction by outdistancing 49 states and Washington, D.C., in a ranking by WalletHub. The personal finance website used 18 metrics ranging from average annual wage adjusted for cost of living to malpractice award payment per capita. One category of metrics grouped data related to “competition and opportunity” and the other “medical environment.”

I suspect that you are as skeptical as I am of surveys that claim to rank complex entities across broad geographic landscapes. I hope you are neither depressed or elated when your alma mater moves three positions on U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of colleges and universities. However, there are a few pearls hidden in this WalletHub attempt at choosing the most physician-friendly states.

New York was again ranked the worst state to practice medicine, a distinction it had “earned” in 2017 with a highest cost of malpractice insurance. This consistency suggests that there is a litigious atmosphere, at least in some parts of New York, that could make forging a trusting doctor-patient relationship difficult. Heading off to work each morning under the dark cloud of malpractice must take a lot of the fun out of practicing medicine.

The other interesting association buried in the ranking is that Montana is at the top of the list because it also was the state with the highest percentage of “medical residents retained.” This concurrence suggests that living and working in Big Sky Country provided a balance that young physicians found not just tolerable but so enjoyable they wanted to stay. I have been unable to find a complete listing of the raw data, but I suspect that Maine also could boast a high percentage of medical residents who choose to remain at the end of their training. It has been and continues to be a wonderful place to live and raise a family.

Dr. William G. Wilkoff practiced primary care pediatrics in Brunswick, Maine, for nearly 40 years.

Dr. William G. Wilkoff

While there may be days when you feel as though the practice of medicine has consumed your every waking moment, the truth is that there is more to life than being a physician. Of course, one must be able to earn enough to support oneself and family, but this survey that purports to rank the best place to practice is too heavily weighted to the financial side of the equation and ignores the more difficult to quantify lifestyle qualities.

You may have found a position that pays well enough but requires a time-gobbling and stress-inducing commute to a place you feel comfortable living. Or, you may like your work, but find the community where you have settled lacks the suite of recreational and/or cultural opportunities you enjoy. Finding a place that offers the best mix of lifestyle and professional rewards that fits your wants and needs can be a matter of luck. Not everyone gets it right the first time. Sometimes it is a matter of making compromises and then continuing to reassess whether these compromises have been the best ones.

Regardless of its ranking on any survey, every state has multiple communities in which a physician can have a satisfying career and a lifestyle he or she enjoys. However, achieving this balanced mix may require the physician to invest something of him or herself into making that community one that feels like home.

Dr. Wilkoff practiced primary care pediatrics in Brunswick, Maine for nearly 40 years. He has authored several books on behavioral pediatrics, including “How to Say No to Your Toddler.” Email him at [email protected].

Next Article: