Match week was this week. That is the week when all of the student doctors find out where they are going for training. Once again, the University of South Alabama College of Medicine did not put as many students into “primary care” as did the rest of the nation, with only 42% of our graduates going into either Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Family Medicine (6 total which is up from previous), and Medicine-Pediatrics. While this is a concern to me, it is not my topic for today. Today I want to focus on the trend regarding students (not) staying in Mobile.

Most medical schools keep about 50% or so of their students for residency training. This is typically because the inertia to stay is usually greater than the desire to move for a brief (3-5 year) training experience before taking a “real” job. Also, the students have typically put down roots in the area, have a support system, know the hospital, and in general are the school’s to lose. This year we managed to keep only 16 out of 70 students. As the match is a national exercise, we got students from outside of Mobile as did all of the other South Alabama programs but you have to wonder why more of these students didn’t stay.

I have noticed for a long time that Mobile, Alabama, is a tough sell to young, energetic student types. I have a lot more success selling it to students I do phone interviews with than when we bring them here in person. I know that our program offers good training, has an exceptional faculty, and our graduates get multiple job offers prior to graduation. So why don’t the students want to come? I’m afraid it might be in part, in the words of the real estate agent, location, location, location.

The Gallup polling group has partnered with Healthways to develop and administer a survey comparing various cities in the United States. It’s called the “Well-Being Index:

The Well-Being Index measures six domains of well-being. Each domain is determined based on scientific study of responses to the survey questions and include:

  • Life Evaluation
  • Emotional Health
  • Physical Health
  • Healthy Behavior
  • Work Environment
  • Basic Access

Each of these have a series of related questions regarding the category. For example, physical health asks questions to get at how healthy the population is. Basic access assesses not only access to health care but to community services as well. If you can’t see where this is going, Alabama ranked #46 (out of 50) and Mobile ranked 174 (out of 188). As a region our congressional district ranked #416 (out of 436). We lost students interested in Family Medicine to Huntsville (#59), Birmingham (#136), and Orlando (#116). Although they too have Family Medicine programs, we did not lose anyone to Shreveport LA (#178), Spartanberg SC (#182) or Port Author TX (#186).

Mobile, I need your help. It strikes me that Mobile has been engaged in “smoke-stack chasing” as a corporate strategy ever since the demise of the cotton plantation. We Mobilians have used coercion to try to recruit military dollars, tax abatements to  attract a chemical industry, and assistance to attract a steel industry. Unfortunately we have also found that each of these strategies comes with a downside. One of the major ones is pollution such that we have limited public access bay to our bay. I don’t know if our Well-Being Index rankings are a result of this strategy or are a coincidence. It really doesn’t matter.

Turns out, young people want more than low taxes, low housing prices, and jobs (if available) that don’t pay very well. The students (and young faculty) that I need to attract into my program typically have a working spouse and small children. They are attracted by good schools and daycare, safe housing, safe opportunities to pursue athletic endeavors such as bicycling, windsurfing, and running, and professional opportunities for their spouse. Those that are single (or married but with no children) are attracted by a downtown with a vibrant night life and residential potential. Might I suggest that we have enough smokestacks. For Pete’s sake, we are on the water, something we have in common with Honolulu (#5) and Alexandria VA (#10). We have 102 days of sunshine a year which puts us ahead of Houston (#84) and Tallahassee (#45). We have a medical school which should put us above Gainesville (#8).

City leaders, let’s build on the industries we have, but now let’s work on making Mobile attractive for young professionals. Former Mayor Mike Dow has outlined one potential proactive move in today’s paper:

While GulfQwest, our new National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico is being constructed (to include  two high-speed ferries on Mobile Bay), let’s support our mayor to find investors and a world-class developer to knock down the civic center, realign the ugly overpasses from I-10, use the old CSX property we now own, and reuse the south end of the Convention Center to build one of the most competitive entertainment and retail districts in the country.

Might I also suggest the following taken from Mayor Sam Jones’ Transition Task Force (2006):

  • Encourage further tourism and residential development on or near the waterfront.
  • Create consulting group or a Maritime Advisory Council composed of various public and private waterfront interests to consider non-Port Authority maritime issues.
  • Essential to Downtown Redevelopment is a commitment from the City government. The Downtown Redevelopment Committee believes that the top priority of the Mayor’s office and City Council should be continued redevelopment of the downtown area.
  • Create a downtown cultural and entertainment district.
  • Work to promote residential development in the downtown area.
  • Recruit educational institutions and small businesses for the downtown area.
  • Expand waterfront access and commercial development along the waterfront.
  • Elevate the public’s awareness of the importance of the cultural and quality of life aspects of our community.
  • Address lighting, parking and safety for walking, jogging and bicycling at all City recreation areas.
  • We must address the fact that we do not have a City marina or fishing pier.
  • Increase City-wide awareness of tennis, golf and the fast-moving sport of disc.
  • Develop City-wide (or regional) plan for provision of primary/specialty/dental/mental health care to under-insured and uninsured citizens, bringing together educators, health care providers, health care insurers/financiers, government and other interests.
  • Enhance and improve public transportation and City recreation sites.

And let’s not forget the plan for downtown finished in 2008, either….

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