The Western United States evoke images of rugged independence, wide-open spaces, and breathtaking mountain vistas. Perhaps that is why three of our top "best states to practice" hail from that region. These states have lower rates of physician density, cost of living, and tax burdens; all factors that make practicing medicine easier on independent docs. The physicians we spoke to also told us that, in the West, there is a certain attitude, a slower pace of life that imbues their communities with friendliness and appreciation for each other.
Physicians Practice has been ranking the best states to practice for nearly a decade, and in that time there have been significant changes in the business of practicing medicine. However, the economic factors that make a great place to practice are more immutable. This year's Best States to Practice, Sponsored by The Doctors Company, examines state data on cost of living, physician density, disciplinary actions taken against physicians, tax burden per capita, malpractice paid loss (the amount paid in malpractice awards per state), and Medicare's Geographic Practice Cost Index (which adjusts physician reimbursement based on regional variation in the cost to treat patients). Rather than tally an average ranking for every state, we used an algorithm to make our determinations. From there, we calculated the five best states to practice medicine in 2015: Idaho, Nevada, Georgia, Texas, and Utah.
If your state is not highlighted here, a more in-depth look at how each state (and the District of Columbia) performs in each data category is available at bit.ly/beststates-map. If it is, see if you agree with our analysis.
IDAHO: A GOOD VALUE
Want to find your ideal state to practice? Use our "Find Your Best State to Practice" tool, allowing you to determine which of our metrics is most important to you in deciding the most physician-friendly states.
Idaho is indeed the Gem State. This year, it garnered the second lowest state ranking in both physician density and cost of living. It also boasts few physician disciplinary actions and a low tax burden, making it easy for a physician to thrive.
Osteopath Brandon Mickelsen practices family medicine in Pocatello, Idaho, a town of about 50,000 residents nestled in the foothills of the Rockies. Born and raised in the state, he says "Idaho has the things that I love to do — I love to be outside and go snowshoeing and snow skiing and waterskiing and hiking and camping."
The low physician density means there is also a shortage of doctors, most deeply felt in the medical specialties. But fortunately Pocatello is home to a family medicine residency affiliated with Idaho State University, and Mickelsen, who is the residency director, says that means plenty of primary-care providers for his community.
Mickelsen, who also holds a leadership position with the Idaho Medical Association, counsels his residents to carefully consider their motivations for choosing a location to set up practice. "…The physician salaries are lower in Idaho as a general rule, and so oftentimes, people look at that and think 'Oh, I don't want to go to Idaho because I'll make less.' But … [I am] often pointing out that the cost of living is dramatically different. For me, the house that I've purchased here in Pocatello would be two or three times as much if I were still living in Maine."
NEVADA: ROOM TO SPREAD OUT
Nevada has a higher cost of living than the rest of our top-five states, but that is offset by lower physician density, disciplinary actions, and malpractice payouts. Family physician Jeffrey Ng is part of a group practice in Henderson, Nev., and says he migrated from a small practice in Connecticut because of the need for physicians. "They have a community here that makes it very attractive for young doctors, because the cost of living is much more affordable vs. California. And the neighborhoods that are out here are modern. It's a newer city, newer town."