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Quality of life lures docs

Debbie Plass thinks she has the best job in Nevada County. As Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s recruiter, Plass recruits personnel and that often means physicians.

Doctors leave Nevada County for various reasons, and unlike potential county government and school employees, they are not as affected by the tight housing market here.

But doctors are looking for more than a nice home when they move and Plass has something many other recruiters don’t, Nevada County’s strong sense of community and what is often referred to as the “Evergreen Factor.”



“They want an excellent practice, collegial physicians and a better lifestyle,” Plass said. “Many of them like the outdoor activities.”

“Physicians are looking at a whole community,” said Steve Sibilsky, the community relations director at the hospital. “When we take them out and about (Nevada County), the nature of the community is what does the job.”




Dr. Terry Werner was recruited by Plass and has been here since August.

About four years ago, he replaced a beloved physician in Auburn, “and I could never get my practice to grow,” said Werner, an ear, nose and throat doctor. “This area was attractive, much like Auburn and I wanted to retain that.

“I’ve really enjoyed it. Our practice has really grown and we’re busier than we were in Auburn. The quality of life was a key factor,” as were the schools and area restaurants, he said.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gabriel Soto was in the Bay Area completing his residency when he got 50 to 100 solicitations from hospitals and towns in various states.

His father-in-law, Dr. Dale Butler, has been here five years and told him how great it was to practice in Nevada County. The family connection was an obvious attraction to land here.

“But the real reason was there was a need for someone,” Soto said. He knew there would be an elderly patient base here and that specialists and surgeons have a tough time finding positions in metropolitan areas.

And, of course, there was also that Evergreen Factor.

“I was absolutely done with the city,” Soto said. “I go back there now and I can’t wait to leave. The Grass Valley-Nevada City area is a hidden gem with restaurants and the arts; it has a lot going for it.”

When Plass lands a doctor, “Usually, it’s a win-win-win situation,” she said. “The community has the need, the hospital gets referrals and expertise, and the physician can establish a thriving practice pretty quickly.”

For every physician opening at the hospital, Plass said she gets three to four doctors responding. That doesn’t necessarily translate into instant filling of the positions.

Currently, she is searching for three family practice doctors, two internal medicine physicians, a neurologist, an endocrinologist (glands), an ear, nose and throat doctor and a cardiologist. Any of those doctors could come to Nevada County on their own volition, but Plass has to follow federal guidelines in recruiting them.

The Internal Revenue Service bases hospital physician recruitment on population and community need.

“You just can’t grab another dermatologist,” Plass said.

Initially, Plass goes to outside recruiting firms who have lists of available doctors and their résumés.

“We do thorough background checks on them and their licensing status,” Plass said. “We want people with a great attitude; nice people to deal with.”

Sierra Nevada Memorial also offers financial incentives to physicians on a case-by-case basis.

The hospital does that, “so that the doctor doesn’t have to worry about the logistics of setting up a practice,” Plass said. “We could help them lease a building for a short period, pay some of their moving expenses or help with equipment. It’s very individualized.”

“Sierra Nevada offers a loan to start your practice,” Soto said. “Most hospitals do in rural areas. It’s a loan, not a grant, but it is forgivable if you stay in the community long enough.”

“We fill (the physician positions) as quickly as possible,” Plass said. “I don’t want to be in the grocery store to hear, ‘I can’t find a doctor.'”

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To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

SNMH doctors’ tenure

Doctors at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital are broken into primary care and surgical services categories. Primary care physicians are internists, pediatricians, family practice and hospitalists. The surgeons cover orthopedics, obstetrics/gynecology, urology, podiatry, oral, eye, general and plastic surgery. The average times of service are:

• Primary care, 12.25 years.

• Surgical services, 12.66 years.

Information from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital


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