Florida’s ranking in the best and worst states for doctors

New report helps reveal Florida’s workplace advantages and disadvantages for practicing physicians

WHEN EXAMINING CAREERS, there are few jobs considered to be as esteemed as that of a physician. Being some of the most dedicated professionals, they have to somehow pay for years of expensive education, endure some of the most intense training, and work under the strictest set of rules and ethics.

However, a physician enjoys one of the higher-paying professions in the U.S. This fact usually allows doctors to live and work where they want, an advantage that many professions don’t offer.

Recently, WalletHub, a one-stop national resource for tools and information small business owners need to make educated financial decisions, released the list of “2015’s Best and Worst States for Doctors.” The report, which was published in late March 2015, included all 50 states and the District of Columbia. WalletHub identified 12 key metrics separated into two categories.

The first category, Opportunity and Competition, analyzed each states’ job market for physicians and focused on earning potential, competition, and patient population. Issues considered in this category included physician’s annual wage, starting salary, wage disparity, number of hospitals per capita, insured population rate, medically underserved areas, the over-65 population, and physicians per capita.

The second category, Work Environment, focused on job risks. This category considered state medical board penalties, malpractice payouts, and malpractice insurance.

How did Florida fare compared to the rest of the country? The Sunshine State came in at 16th in the Opportunity and Competition ranking, and overall Florida placed 14th. Not bad!

What makes doctors want to move to Florida? According to physicianspractice.com, one of the big draws is the climate. Florida is known for its abundance of sunshine, and it’s no secret that golf is one of the favorite pastimes of doctors. Florida has golf. Jacksonville Family Physician Robert Raspa says, “You’re always within 50 miles of the beach.”

Another draw is the cost of living. In most of Florida, the cost of living is very reasonable compared to other states. Florida has no state income tax, and laws are favorable and protective for homeowners.

Why did Florida place so high in the first category, Opportunity and Competition? Florida is actually high on the list of the states with a shortage of physicians. One of the reasons is due to Florida’s aging physician population. According to the American Medical Association, almost 30 percent of the state’s physicians are at least 60 years old, with only about 10 percent under the age of 35. It is estimated there will be roughly 5,000 to 6,000 physicians retiring in Florida within the next five years.

Florida is having a hard time keeping young doctors. The main reason this is happening is due to the lack of residency programs. Tim Goldfarb of Shands Health Care says Florida is projected to be lacking close to 7,000 physicians in the next 10 years if additional residency programs aren’t created. It is estimated that more than 13,000 residency positions are needed in that timeframe. Right now, the money for these residency programs isn’t available. Part of the reason for the lack of funds is because Florida is not participating in the expanded Medicaid program, which consequently means the state will not receive additional funding.

Florida State University’s Dean of its College of Medicine reports that nearly 67 percent of FSU’s medical students leave the state to pursue their residency programs. Florida has a low ranking of 42nd in the number of residency positions. Because residency students tend to stay in the area where they complete their programs, fewer new doctors are entering the market in Florida.

Which specialty areas of practice are having shortages? The ones most in need include psychiatry, general surgery, rheumatology, thoracic surgery, and ear-nose-throat specialties. The two biggest counties, Broward and Palm Beach counties, will soon need allergists, otolaryngologists, family practitioners, immunologists, kidney disease experts, hematologists, oncologists, and specialties related to infectious diseases. These two counties also have a large aging community.

Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, more people have health insurance, which should translate to a greater demand for medical services. In terms of opportunity, there should be plenty of it in Florida in the next 10 years, but not without many hurdles along the way. Case in point, the rejection of the expanded Medicaid program in Florida combined with the qualifications under the Affordable Care Act has left an estimated 850,000 Floridians under a “Health Care Gap” without insurance coverage, according to Health News Florida. It is yet to be seen how these uninsured will get coverage. And, only time will tell what kind of financial strains are put on private-practice physicians in the wake of regulations imposed by the Affordable Care Act.

A review of the second category, Work Environment, shows Florida placed 26th. Florida is an extremely litigious state, and malpractice coverage is high. In 2009, the national average of paid medical malpractice settlements was under 200, while Florida had nearly four times that amount. In addition to a large uninsured population, Florida has a high number of Medicare fraud cases. Additionally, Florida has a significant number of adults that have difficulty paying their medical bills and debt compared to other states.

Despite these apparent challenges, what other reasons make Florida attractive to physicians? Medscape.com reported in a March 2013 survey that the most important factors leading to where doctors live and practice include a comfortable and enjoyable living environment, having family and friends living nearby, the relative value of the physician specialty, the climate/temperature, and job opportunity. Florida has most or all of these, making it an attractive practice location among physicians.

In addition to its low cost of living, Florida is ranked as a state with one of the least number of actions taken by state medical boards against physicians, according to Public Citizen. Physicianspractice.com reports that the Florida Legislature has been friendly to its physicians in recent years.

For Central Florida specifically, David Petr, president of the Central Florida Development Council, says, “The Life Sciences industry continues to see significant growth throughout, with new capital investment being added in several municipalities. With this investment comes high-skill, high-wage jobs for our region.”

Petr says the Central Florida Development Council and its investors are excited to see this area of the economy growing, and will continue to align efforts to facilitate the success of their life science partners.


article by JO LYNN DEAL

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