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Duluth ranks No. 1 among northern small towns for doctors

Duluth is a great place to be a doctor, Jacob Prunuske says.

“I can put in a full day at work at a professionally satisfying job; yet, because of the lack of commute and accessibility to outstanding outdoor activities, enjoy my time away from work as well,” Prunuske wrote in an email on Friday.

Prunuske, a doctor who serves on the faculty of the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Duluth campus while practicing one day a week at the Lake Superior Community Health Center, got some validation from a national source this month.

Medscape, an online journal for health professionals, named Duluth the best “small town” — population under 100,000 — to practice in among the north-central and Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

“Because they’re practicing in a mini-metro area in a remote location, physicians in Duluth can practice to the full extent of their training but still have access to a full range of medical resources,” Medscape’s Shelly Reese wrote.

Among those resources, she cited a Level 2 trauma center, a vascular institute, a regional neuroscience center and the presence of the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“Taxes are high in Minnesota, but you get something for your money: The state has the highest high-school graduation rate in the country,” Reese added. “Yes, Duluth winters are brutal, but the city’s airport offers direct flights to Florida.”

In an email, Medscape’s Leslie Kane said the website determined its ratings after asking physicians what factors they considered most important when deciding where to practice. They ranked a comfortable, enjoyable living environment first; followed by family and friends living nearby; relative value of their specialty; climate and temperature; job opportunities; and malpractice climate and insurance premiums.

Ironically, last year Duluth was named the worst city for recruiting physicians and surgeons by Wanted Analytics, which provides information to recruiters. But the resulting physician shortage means doctors willing to come here “can command higher salaries than in saturated markets,” a physician recruiter told Reese.

The director of the recruitment firm that serves St. Luke’s hospital confirmed that.

“We do have some amazing providers in Duluth,” said Jason Bishop of the Dallas-based firm Merritt Hawkins. “To do that they do have to be able to offer top-tier money.”

Sandra Barkley, vice president of clinics for St. Luke’s, said she doesn’t believe Duluth is the “worst” city for recruiting physicians.

“Duluth, however, is not an easy place,” she said. “The reputation of Duluth precedes it with, particularly, the winter weather.”

Seeing a Discovery Channel show about icebreakers in the Duluth harbor does scare some people away, Bishop said. But people also are scared about reports of 100-degree weather in Dallas, he added.

Doctors who don’t mind the cold, or can overlook it, find Duluth does have a lot to offer them, St. Luke’s CEO John Strange said.

“When they get here, they’re amazed at the level and the quality of the medical staff in Duluth,” he said. “Between the two systems, there are an awful lot of extremely highly trained, well-educated physicians.”

Among big cities, Medscape ranked Indianapolis the region’s best place for physicians.