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Dr. Kinga Powers
Dr. Kinga Powers: “There are smaller restaurants here run by local people that are special.”
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Dr. Carl Musser
Dr. Carl Musser: Southwest Roanoke County has been “an easy neighborhood to move into.”
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Dr. Kinga Powers
Dr. Kinga Powers: “There are smaller restaurants here run by local people that are special.”
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Dr. Steven Goldstein
Dr. Steven Goldstein: He misses Philadelphia’s comedy clubs and direct, non-stop flights, but “living 10 minutes from the hospital gives me several hours in a day that I didn’t have before.”
The gold standard in attracting new residents – the lifeblood of thriving communities – is the professional.
Almost any credential of higher education will get economic developers’ pulses pounding as long as it’s associated with earning power. The coveted include engineers, scientists, attorneys and physicians. Maybe doctors most of all because their prestigious brand carries unique cultural cachet.
“My son (or daughter) the doctor,” is a cliché of pride that is routinely highjacked, as in:
“My neighbor the doctor.”
“My golf partner the doctor.”
“The new doctor at my church.”
A new doctor in town is seen as someone special. So we asked three recently arrived physicians how they see the Roanoke area as a place to live and work. We inquired about their likes, dislikes, comparisons with other places and prescriptions for improvement.
The Culture Seeker
Dr. Kinga Powers unabashedly describes the Roanoke area as “The Paris of The South.”
The 40-year-old trauma surgeon at Carilion Clinic, who moved here last year after practicing in Andover, Mass., near Boston, says Roanoke has everything for her active lifestyle: from the symphony to kayaking.
An eclectic music lover, she has attended such concerts as those by George Benson at the Jefferson Center and Elton John at the Roanoke Civic Center. “I went to the Roanoke Symphony’s Masquerade Ball. These things are very accessible,” says Powers.
She finds Roanoke’s restaurants don’t leave her missing big-city eateries. “Even when I lived in bigger cities I existed mainly in my own community. I would usually go to restaurants in, or near, my neighborhood,” she says.
“I think there are smaller restaurants here run by local people that are special,” adds Powers. Among her favorites: Alexander’s downtown and Rockfish in the Grandin area.
Renting a home in South Roanoke near Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and its burgeoning Riverside complex, Powers enjoys an independent grocer close by: Tinnell’s Finer Foods. “People there know who you are. They greet you.”
Powers says she may eventually buy a house in South Roanoke. The selection there is attractive, she says. “In bigger cities, usually when you live close to a hospital, you’re not in a very nice area. Here, you’re in a sought-after part of the city.”
She also enjoys antique hunting and shopping. If stores in Roanoke don’t have what Powers is looking for, no problem: “You don’t really have to drive that far to Richmond for your metropolitan experience, if you want, say, Nordstrom.”
Although the job at Carilion brought her here, with a chance to broaden her surgery opportunities and branch into research, it’s the lifestyle that could well keep Powers in Roanoke. Unlike some singles who complain about the Star City social scene, Powers finds it both lively and warm.
“I have made friends here who are professional photographers, others who work for the City of Roanoke and others who are musicians. Roanoke is just the right size to be able to go out and meet people who are professionals and are open to newcomers. The social circles are open.”
Carilion helped her break the ice. Medical staff officials routinely reach out to new doctors, says Powers, by organizing social functions “like a wine and cheese discussion at Cambria Suites” and a gathering at the upscale Shenandoah Club where recent arrivals received packets of information on everything from “hair salon choices to where to get shoes repaired to outdoor trips.”
Powers adds, “I found that a lot of the people who came to these gatherings, the new physicians, were in my age range.”
And she rates the populace high in sophistication. The abundance of colleges and universities in the area, she says, help create “a young city with a lot of energy. You have a lot of people here inclined to be more academic and intellectual. There’s a blend of culture, academics and nature that’s very nice.”
But Roanoke doesn’t live up to its potential in one way that Powers yearns for. “I’d like to see more collaboration between the big institutions and across specialties – not only medical research but software development and other industries. Maybe have events that would bring more professional people together, like conferences using the civic center and Hotel Roanoke, which is beautiful; activities that would put this place on the map.”
The Former Philly Fanatic
For Dr. Steven Goldstein, relocating to the Roanoke area from near his hometown of Philadelphia resulted in a sacrifice of urbanity that he says is a worthwhile tradeoff.
The 53-year-old cardiologist at LewisGale Medical Center in Salem moved here in June 2011. He had been living in Cherry Hill, N.J., about 10 miles from his native Philly.
“There’s a culture shock that I can’t lie about – even if my day just consists of going to work, to the gym and home to bed,” says Goldstein, sitting in his office between patients. “I always felt there were all these options with Philly so close by.”
He cites some of the metropolitan polish he misses: A large airport with nonstop flights to places such as Las Vegas, where he occasionally attends medical conferences; a wide selection of restaurants like P.F. Chang’s Chinese Bistro, a popular chain that hasn’t come to the Roanoke area, and shopping at a Macy’s stocked more expansively than is the iconic anchor’s store at Valley View Mall.
But Goldstein says that he and his wife, Kathy, a physician who is working part-time in occupational medicine at LewisGale Physicians-Main Street in Blacksburg, haven’t been in Southwest Virginia long enough to fully explore the restaurant and shopping options.
Goldstein misses the comedy clubs that abounded in the area of his former home, but says Roanoke offsets that loss with occasional guest stars. “Lewis Black is coming to the civic center and we’re going to see him.”
The Roanoke area’s plentiful open spaces are another plus, he says. “I jog at Green Hill Park with my iPod, and I haven’t been attacked by a bear yet,” he says with a chuckle.
Moreover, there are tradeoffs in culture and convenience that move the comparison dial for Roanoke versus larger markets to the plus range, Goldstein says. For example, his most recent job while living near Phildelphia was an 18-month stint working in a cardiology practice in Atlantic City. N.J.
“That required an hour-and-a-half each way of expressway driving. And at times when I was on call at the hospital, I had to be no more than a half an hour away in case of emergencies, so I would stay in a hotel.” That grind, he says, “really wasn’t sustainable.”
In contrast, “Now I live about 10 minutes from the hospital. That gives me several hours a day in my life that I didn’t have before.”
And housing itself is a relative bargain in Roanoke, he says. “We were able to buy a lot more house here than I ever thought I’d live in,” says Goldstein. Moreover, he estimates that his property taxes are about 60 percent lower than in New Jersey.
Then there are Roanoke’s relatively friendly residents. “While we were moving into our house, the neighbors brought over dinner for us. I mean, coming from South Jersey, that’s nothing you trust.”
Goldstein adds, “There are just really nice people here and a tendency to make newcomers feel like part of the community.”
Another surprise on the friendliness front for Goldstein: He’s still getting used to the genial nature exhibited by neighbors who wave “when we drive by.”
Return of The Native
For Dr. Carl Musser at Carilion Clinic, living in Southwest Virginia is a return to where he went to undergraduate school at Virginia Tech and fell in love. Still, he and his wife, Michelle, played the field for years in terms of deciding where to settle down.
Now they’re committed to the Roanoke area.
“We traveled a bit during my training to see some different parts of the country,” says Musser, 39, a cardiac electrophysiologist whose skills include implanting heart pacemakers. Comparing various possible locales where he would eventually apply for work “was really helpful for us. We were of similar minds that the Southeast was where we wanted to end up.”
Then in 2010 Musser found a Carilion position via an online job bank. “The job posting was a perfect match for what I do. A lot of things lined up with that opportunity,” he says.
Returning to a once-familiar and favored area can raise expectations too high on the pedestal of nostalgia, but Musser says that hasn’t been the case for him and his wife. For one thing, they enjoy following the Virginia Tech sports teams and discovering that the link between their campus and Roanoke is stronger than when they were in school as Hokies.
“I hope the connection is forged even more strongly with the new Carilion Virginia Tech School of Medicine and Research Institute,” he says.
He and Michelle, who isn’t working outside the home, have found the life they dreamed of in Roanoke. The couple’s perspective is that of a young family. With their children, a seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter, their Roanoke is a safe haven abounding with kids’ soccer leagues, swimming lessons at the Carilion-owned Roanoke Athletic Club and evenings out at child-friendly restaurants such as El Rodeo on Brambleton Avenue.
But the doctor dad’s personal favorite eatery is a little more spicy. “For me, I’ve been desperate for years to live in a city with a Chipotle.” The chain opened an outlet in Roanoke in 2011. “I went there the first day. It was a defining moment.”
His family also enjoys such special events as downtown Roanoke’s Dickens of a Christmas. “We live in Southwest Roanoke County, and it’s very family oriented with lots of young children. It has been a easy neighborhood for us to move into,” says Musser.
Unlike some newcomers, who come from larger cities, the Mussers moved here from a smaller market, Lebanon, N.H., where the doctor completed a fellowship at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. So instead of Roanoke’s choices seeming limited, as they may to some, the city seems vibrant.
Yet he does have a short wish list: the return to downtown of Roanoke’s Science Museum of Western Virginia, moved temporarily to Tanglewood Mall as a part of a renovation at Center in the Square; more specific kids’ activities and displays at the Taubman Museum of Art and more animals at Mill Mountain Zoo.
“It’s a nice zoo,” he says, but, “We’ve done it a couple of times now and the kids don’t get as excited about running up there.”
On the whole though, for three newcomer doctors in this article, Roanoke passes the lifestyle lab tests with flying colors.