Deborah Winiger, 45, came to Illinois just prior to enrolling at Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine and has stayed ever since.
In 2000, she established North Suburban Family Healthcare, her solo family medicine practice, in Vernon Hills, Ill., about 40 miles north of Chicago. With family nearby and a great relationship with her patients, she says it's likely that the "Land of Lincoln" will be her professional and personal home for some years to come.
"I love what I do and love my patient population, so I'll never leave to be honest," says Winiger.
But that doesn't mean there aren't parts of practicing in Illinois she would change.
For you, what is the best part of practicing medicine in the state of Illinois?
The best part I think, at least being in the Chicago suburban area, is having subspecialty care and tertiary care within a very short distance. It makes it a comfortable way to practice medicine knowing I have specialists really close by; within 15 minutes. Plus [there's a] tertiary care center within an hour [of my practice] which means, with complicated cases …you can provide better care than when you need to travel two hours to three hours.
In addition to family, the connections I've made [have kept me in Illinois]. I've been with the same hospital [Advocate Condell Medical Center] for that amount of time too. That comfort level of being familiar with a system and the service area and what's available is important.
In terms of cost of living, however, it is not the cheapest you can get in the country; it's not the most expensive either. The suburbs of Chicago are a little more reasonable. I'll be honest, if I went across the border and moved to Indiana, I could probably make the same salary, but pay a third less in terms of cost of living.
What, if anything, would you change about the climate for physicians in Illinois?
There are two things I would easily change. One is that Illinois is probably in the top five in terms of malpractice suits in the country, so it is not very physician-friendly as we have no caps on malpractice claims. In that same vein, we have a very strong trial lawyer association, which compounds that problem. That's probably the biggest issue. Colleagues of mine in multiple specialties, they can't get partners because of the malpractice issue. Some have actually moved across the border to Wisconsin because the cost of malpractice [is cheaper]. It has gotten a bit better here, but still a very litigious state. I pay probably in the upper echelon in the country for malpractice [coverage].
Plus, we have a nearly bankrupt state …we are on the brink anyway. So that doesn't help, unfortunately. [The state legislature] took money out of the reserves for physician licensing, siphoning it off over several years. Now, fees for licenses are at least two-and-a-half times more than what they were previously.
[Editor's Note: In March 2013, the Illinois General Assembly approved a measure to raise the cost of a three-year licensing fee for physicians to $700 from the previous rate of $300. The raise was to help fund the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations, the body that licenses and disciplines state physicians.]
(read family physician William F. Hays' take on Illinois on the next page)