Though Athens, Ga., is No. 1 on the Modern Physician list of best places for physicians to practice medicine, physicians moving to this city 60 miles east of Atlanta should be warned that they face stiff competition.
True, Modern Physician found that Clarke County, where Athens is located, is a growing area that can accommodate new physicians. The county's population grew 17.6% in the 1980s and 15.9% in the 1990s, and stood at over 100,000 in 2000, according to the Census Bureau.
But about 20 to 25 new physicians seek privileges each year at Athens Regional Medical Center, which has 300 doctors on staff, according to Cecil Hudson, M.D., the hospital's chief of staff and medical director.
Though Athens has no medical school or residency programs that could give doctors in training a taste of the town, Hudson says former undergraduates at the University of Georgia, which is in Athens, come back to practice. He says the main attractions are the many cultural offerings at the university.
Physicians also like Athens' proximity to Atlanta, the mountains to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south, says David C. Allen. M.D., a urologist who has practiced in Athens for 21 years.
Allen grew up in Athens, then went to Tennessee and Kentucky for medical school and residency training, but came back to his hometown to practice.
"It's a nice place to raise kids," says Allen, whose children are now 19 and 22.
In addition, Allen says Athens is also well known as a retirement community. A few of his patients are former professors at Yale University who have become transplanted "Athenians," as the inhabitants call themselves.
Athens has attractions for younger doctors. Rolling Stone recently named Athens the nation's No. 1 college music town.
In theModern Physician analysis of 357 metropolitan statistical areas, Athens scored high as a place with relatively low malpractice premiums and low salaries of office staff.
Indeed, average per capita income for the county is below the Georgia average, even as Athens reports the lowest unemployment rate in the state, according to state authorities.
Athenians' incomes are low even though, according to Modern Physician calculations, the city has an unusually high percentage of people over college age with college degrees, which is thought to be a good indicator of cultural offerings in a city.
Our study also found Athens ranked 66th in population growth, putting it in the top fifth of cities on the Modern Physician list.
Meanwhile, the city ranked near the middle in state income taxes and toward the lower end for Medicare reimbursements.
To see the complete list of best places to practice click here.