Rural areas tough to sell to doctors

Posted March 29, 2010, at 9:47 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Recruiting primary care doctors is even more of a challenge in northern Maine than it is in the southern half of the state, according to Kevin Lewis of the Maine Primary Care Association. The state’s rural charms may be lost on young doctors who are worried about relocating to areas they see as professionally iso-lated, socially confined and geographically remote, he said.

But Michael Donahue, vice president for physician practices at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, said many doctors decide to settle in the region after serving in the hospital’s residency program, impressed with the sophistication of the facility and the natural beauty of the area. New physicians from Tufts University School of Medicine and the University of New England in Biddeford serve one-year residencies at EMMC.

There are openings now for five primary care physicians in EMMC outpatient practices: one internist, three family medicine physicians and one pediatrician.

One barrier to filling these slots, Donahue noted, is that many doctors have spouses who also must find professional employment in the area.

The presence of the University of Maine campus in Orono is a professional and social plus for many physicians and their families, Donahue noted.

Lewis at the primary care association agreed that perception of isolation in the Bangor area and northern Maine often is exaggerated.

“In fact, there is a vibrant professional community and network there,” he said.

Physicians who practice in the most rural areas of Maine find themselves supported by an effective system of telemedicine and other clinical assets, Lewis said.

Lewis said doctors also may be skeptical of the social possibilities in Maine’s rural communities, especially if they’re unmarried and looking to meet a life partner.

“Many think they’d rather live in a more urban area farther to the south,” he said, although there are many examples of single physicians finding true love in far-flung medical outposts.

For doctors who are already married, Lewis said, it is sometimes the spouse who resists the pull to the rural north.

“You really need a spouse who loves fly-fishing or who grew up in a rural area and isn’t afraid of living in a fishbowl,” Lewis said.

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