Real Estate for Physicians: Location, Location, Location, Location
On one hand, even though it’s entirely not his fault, the good orthopedic doctor called me back to the hospital right as I pulled the car into my garage, having just left the hospital, and I’ve decided to be upset with him. But, really, I’m just perturbed at the situation, because it’s 9:25 a.m. and I’m going back to the hospital for the third time today.
On the other hand, for the umpteenth time this year, I remind myself how
lucky smart I am to have a home so close to the hospital.
Location, Location, Location, Location
Why the fourth location? If you, like me, are a physician who takes “home” call, or have any type of position that requires more than five round trips to work in a normal week, location should play a more vital role in your housing choice.
You’ve probably heard the three-location mantra as it applies to what matters in real estate. You may not know that in the fictional and quite funny world of professional therapist Dr. Katz, his buddy Stanley actually coined that phrase, although his original catchphrase used the word four times. I think the phrase with the four locations applies best to doctors and others who make frequent trips to work.
The Benefits of Living Close to Work
Living near the hospital improves my life in many ways. Take this particular Sunday as an example. I was called in for labor epidurals at 0515 and 0830, then back again for a third time at 0925 for an orthopedic procedure. Before we finished, there was rumor of a hip fracture. We came back to fix that in the afternoon.
If, like my partners, I lived about 20 minutes away, I would be spending around two and a half hours driving back and forth for four procedures on a Sunday. With a six minute round trip I’ve got, I’ve spent 24 minutes total, a savings of 2 hours to spend as I please.
Alternatively, I could choose to stay at the hospital. Well, that’s no fun, especially when I’ve got a family living life without me just down the road. If I lived further away, though, I might stay longer at the hospital to find out whether those rumors turn out to be true, or to see how soon the other laboring patient will reach her breaking point and request my services. If the rumored case doesn’t materialize, or the woman chooses to tough it out, I’ve wasted even more time at the hospital.
Quite frequently, our surgeons will do add-on cases after a weekday clinic, and the page for the case usually goes out between 1700 and 1800. If the day’s last scheduled patient leaves the recovery room at 1630, I’m heading home. There’s a good chance I’ll have dinner with my family at 1700 before having to go back — and if I don’t make it home, that’s another day I won’t see my boys at all. If I lived further away, I’d probably end up staying at the hospital, eating cafeteria food alone in the office.
When I’m home and on call, I have much more freedom than I would if I wasn’t so close. With a 20-minute tether, I’ve got plenty of leeway. If I’ve just started eating, I can finish my meal. If I’m sound asleep (and it’s not a stat case), I’ve got time to brush my teeth and take a shower. I can be sweating on the treadmill or soaking in the hot tub and still make it in to the hospital in plenty of time. Living further away, I would be much more limited in how I conduct myself while on call — which is how I spend 20% of my life, or 1,752 hours per year (but who’s counting?). Call is more tolerable when you’ve got 15 minutes to be on your way, instead of two.
A Short Commute Keeps Me Healthier
I can ride my bike to work, and I do about half the year. If were hardcore, I could do it year round. But frankly, I’m kinda soft, and my commute includes a trip across a high bridge with a narrow sidewalk that can be a little harrowing in good weather. In the winter, the sidewalk narrows with the buildup of snow and ice, and there’s nothing between that skinny sidewalk and the cars cruising past at 40 mph.
But I do harness pedal power about six months of the year, saving on gasoline and increasing my daily exercise. Living within a mile of the hospital, I can easily walk it when necessary.
Hypothetically, if I were to lock my keys in the car as I arrive still somewhat somnolent in the wee hours, I could just walk home rather than call a service or my wife to come pick me up. OK, that’s not a hypothetical situation, but an actual situation that I’ve found myself in. Twice. It’s a brisk twelve minute walk.
In the midst of a blizzard, it might take me a little while, but I can get there in snowshoes. It wouldn’t be the first time I commuted by snowshoe. Location matters when doing locum tenens work, too. Several years ago, I spent a week in a luxury townhome across a frozen lake from the hospital where I was working. I opted for the “as-the-crow-flies” route, snowshoeing directly across the ice to and from work every day. That trek was an invigorating way to wake up in the morning.
Being able to get to work without a motorized vehicle makes it easier to get by when one of our two vehicles in the shop for brake work or deer-versus-front-quarter-panel work. We don’t need a rental car replacement. Even better, we’re within a mile of the mechanic and body shop, so I’ve been able to drop off the car and walk home.
In summary, living close to the hospital is great for these reasons:
- Less time commuting = more time at home.
- Less money spent commuting = more money in my pocket.
- I can always leave the hospital, even if I only have 30 to 60 minutes.
- Locked keys in car only inconveniences me.
- I have much more freedom at home when on call.
- Time to brush my teeth = no morning breath.
- Time for my shower = good for everyone.
- I get more exercise.
- We can get by with one car when necessary.
Location Isn’t Everything
I know. I know. Your hospital is in a bad neighborhood. The schools are better two towns over. Your specialty doesn’t get called back much. There’s nothing in the hospital near your price range. You love your commute.
There are some valid reasons to live further away. There are reasons that I might consider less valid, but it’s your money and your life.
I have certainly spent time in hospitals that didn’t have the greatest housing within a mile or two. You may want to live on a hobby farm, or have acreage for motocross trails. Understand that if you have a job like mine, you won’t be milking cows or catching air on your call shifts. Living on the outskirts, you’ll have to stop reading mid-sentence when the pager goes off. If you lived closer, you could finish the story (children’s book) or chapter (grown-up book) before going to work.
The school issue is a big one for those of us with kids in public schools, We all want to give our children the best opportunities, but I think we tend to put a little too much emphasis on ensuring we live in only the best school districts in the neighborhoods slated for the best elementary or middle schools.
I recognize that there can be major differences between the best and “worst” schools, but I also know that the have-nots also produce doctors and lawyers and such. It’s also true that the school district lines can be redrawn, and the school you were slated for can change. I wouldn’t pay a large premium for a home based school zoning, knowing that the borders can and do move.
The Value of Time
Time is money and money is time.
If you never take home call, you won’t be going back and forth nearly as much as I do, but there will still be a routine commute every workday, and you may find yourself going back for department or committee meetings in the evenings or on your days off. If you believe that your time is valuable (it is), minimizing your commute is valuable, too. Less time in traffic means less stress and more time at home.
What is a shorter commute worth? Consider three physicians. One drives 5 minutes each way to work, the second lives 25 minutes away, and the third needs a solid 45 minutes. The round trips are 10 minutes, 50 minutes, and 90 minutes.
Let’s assume each commutes 240 times per year. It could be less or a lot more, but it’s a good place to start, and makes the math easy. Our first physician spends 2,400 minutes, or 40 hours commuting. That’s one standard work week commuting over the course of a year.
The second physician, living 25 minutes away, spends 12,000 minutes = 200 hours in the car, or five standard work weeks. Our third physician, living way out in the suburbs, is in the car for 2,160 hours, or nine 40-hour work weeks.
In terms of time, living 5 minutes and not 45 minutes away from work gives you an extra 320 hours to play with every year (or an additional 8 weeks of “vacation”), and more money to spend or save, as you’ll be putting about 10,000 fewer miles on your car. Over the last year, I put about 3,000 miles on my car, and I can account for over 2,000 in five road trips. I don’t know exactly how many miles can be attributed to commuting, but it would be measured in the dozens or low hundreds, not in the thousands.
How close do you live to your primary workplace? Was location a primary consideration when you shopped for a home? Would you do things differently if given another chance?