Kris and Cindy Saadeh stand inside the building they bought at the corner of Commerce and Market streets in downtown Kingsport. Cindy Saadeh plans to open an art gallery in the building. The couple and their young son moved here last year from Charleston, S.C., after Kris, a radiologist, took a job in Kingsport. Photo by David Grace.
KINGSPORT — During his last year of residency to become an orthopaedic surgeon, Jason Park began looking around the country for a community to call home. He and his wife, Emilie — both from New York City — were considering various areas, including Texas, Arizona and North Carolina.
Then Park’s job recruiter suggested Tennessee, specifically Northeast Tennessee.
“My initial reaction was — who lives in Tennessee?” Jason Park said.
He took his recruiter’s advice and scheduled an interview with Holston Medical Group, arriving in Kingsport on a dreary, rainy day.
“Even in the pouring rain, there was something about this place that was appealing,” he said.
Park took the job and he, his wife and children moved here in July 2007.
Kris Saadeh had lived and worked as a radiologist in Charleston, S.C., since 1995 when he started searching for new opportunities elsewhere. He learned about Kingsport through a friend who had interviewed here. And although the friend chose to move to Nashville instead, Saadeh and his wife, Cindy, decided to give Kingsport a try, and moved here with their young son in June 2007.
“It actually fit exactly with what I was looking for,” Kris said. “It’s a really nice town for raising a child and starting a family.”
In the past few years, Kingsport and the Tri-Cities region have attracted hundreds of medical professionals, and area healthcare providers are welcoming them with open arms.
Move to Kingsport
Facing a shortage of physicians in the next decade, health care providers are vying to recruit more doctors today. And many providers are turning to the Internet to help in those recruiting efforts.
Mountain States Health Alliance, which operates 11 hospitals throughout the region, includes a physician recruitment section on its Web site, featuring amenities of the area and what it’s like to live here.
Wellmont Health System also includes a special physician recruitment section on its Web site, which features testimonials from physicians and their spouses on working and living in the region. It also features links to various community organizations, including area schools, the public library, chamber of commerce, and area parks and recreational facilities. The Web site also includes a link to the Move to Kingsport Web site at movetokingsport.com.
Kira Dykstra, executive director of the Move to Kingsport program at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, said she works with various local healthcare providers to help in their recruitment efforts.
“We’ve found that recruiters have sold the hospitals and healthcare facilities to the physicians. We’re there to sell the community — not only to the physician but also to the physician’s family,” Dykstra said.
The Move to Kingsport Program recently revamped its Web site to make it more appealing to prospective residents. The site features conversations with newcomers who relate their experiences living here.
“We’ve tried to personalize the experience for people by putting testimonials on the Web site. The whole idea — people are looking for other people who are like them. So we’re trying to connect like people,” Dykstra said.
Move to Kingsport also features an ambassador program which links prospective new residents with volunteers in the community, who can show the prospects around town, answer questions, and address concerns.
Move to Kingsport offers a bus tour to help new residents become familiar with their new community.
And when needed, Dykstra and other chamber and city officials give presentations to prospective new residents about life in Kingsport.
“We’re trying to bring people to our community who can really add to our economy, add to our intellectual capital, our social capital, people who want to get involved and volunteer,” Dykstra said.
Recruiting a CEO
Tim Attebery, chief executive officer of Cardiovascular Associates, is a new recruit himself. He and his wife, Sue, and their daughter moved here in December 2007 from Beaufort, S.C.
Since then, Sue Attebery has become involved in the community, particularly with Junior League. She also serves on the local arts council, and is involved with the American Heart Association events.
Their daughter is also making new friends in the community and enjoying her new school as a 5th grader at Washington Elementary.
Attebery said some communities tend to be “clicky” and “if you’re not part of the group or don’t break into them, you’re kind of on the outside. We’ve seen that in South Carolina. That is not the case here,” he said.
“The transition has been really the easiest thing I could have imagined — from a comfort level, from being welcomed, from learning the community. We’ve been very happy living here, and we would hope that we can stay here a long, long time,” Attebery said. “If we could just sell our house in South Carolina we would be at nirvana.”
At the Move to Kingsport office, Dykstra said the Attebery family represents the kind of folks the city wants to attract.
“They’ve come in and added new life to the community,” she said.
A deciding factor
Physician spouses and their opinions of the region can be a deciding factor in whether or not the physician moves here.
When Jason and Emilie Park were considering moving from New York City to a new community, education was a top issue. Emilie wanted to make sure her three children received the best education wherever they went.
After considering several locations around the country, the Parks narrowed their search to two communities — Raleigh/Durham, N.C., and Kingsport, Tenn.
“A big part of that was the school systems,” Emilie said.
On the Internet, she was able to compare the school system in Kingsport with others around the country, and also spoke with a friend in the educational field about the offerings here.
“I looked at the public school system here, and I knew the quality of my children’s educations wouldn’t be compromised,” Emilie said.
The family moved into a home in the Rotherwood community and began settling in. Still, the first year was hard for Emilie, who aside from college in Buffalo, N.Y., had never lived away from her family in New York City.
Emilie started getting involved in the community, volunteering in Junior League, Meals on Wheels, and the PTA at Washington Elementary. She holds a master’s degree in political science and plans to pursue a doctorate once her children, now ages 6, 4 and 2, are a little older.
And soon she’ll have help with the children. Emilie’s parents are buying a house in Kingsport and plan to live part-time here and part-time in New York City.
“They wanted to be near their grandchildren,” Emilie said.
Her parents immigrated years ago from Korea to New York City, where Emilie’s father worked as an engineer. He is now retired.
Emilie said she was disappointed in the lack of cultural diversity in Kingsport, but was glad to find a Korean community at Tri-City Korean Presbyterian Church, located just outside Kingsport’s city limits.
Emilie said she would eventually like to help start an international cultural society to increase awareness in the area about other cultures.
“The hardest part of leaving the city was leaving my family and friends. But if you make it work for you — there’s a ton of things you can do here,” Emilie said.
Investing in the community
Just how the physician and his family interact in the community after their arrival can make a huge difference in their satisfaction of the area.
When Kris and Cindy Saadeh moved here last summer, downtown Kingsport attracted their attention. Buildings were being renovated, restaurants were being opened, art sculptures were being erected and concerts were being held to bring more people to the downtown area.
The Saadehs decided to make an investment too, and purchased the building at the corner of Market and Commerce Street. The building was constructed in the early 1900s, and served as various storefronts over the years, including a feed store.
“We saw what was happening down here and thought this would be a good investment,” Cindy Saadeh said.
After renovations are complete, one side of the 31,050-square-foot building will provide a storefront for Cindy to display her original oil paintings. Another artist, Michael Ripper, plans to join her at the site, offering his pottery and woodworking creations. The two will set up a studio in back, and offer various classes to teach their crafts.
“I thought it would be cool to have a gallery downtown,” Cindy said.
The other side of the building is still available.
Kris and Cindy said they hope to add to the revitalization of downtown Kingsport.
“Coming from Charleston, we were used to many different restaurants and a nightlife downtown. That’s why it’s exciting to see the efforts in revitalizing this downtown,” Cindy Saadeh said.
Getting people to move here is only part of the picture.
“The key is retaining them,” said Dr. Stephen Combs, senior vice president for medical affairs at Wellmont Health System and president and CEO of Wellmont Physicians Services.
“We have to make sure their needs are met — that what they thought they were coming to is what they find,” Combs said.
He said Wellmont has a plan to help keep new arrivals happy here. The health system contacts the physician 90 days after his arrival to ensure he has moved into the community, and that everything is going well.
Allan Fain, director of medical staff development at Wellmont, said his office keeps tabs on new physicians for up to three years after their arrivals.
At Cardiovascular Associates, CEO Tim Attebery said his group assigns a senior physician to serve as a mentor to doctors who are new to the region. The senior physicians are able to help their junior counterparts not only on the job but in the community as well.
Attebery credited city and chamber officials for their help in recruiting and retaining physicians and their families.
“When we bring somebody to town, everybody goes into show mode, and they put on a great presentation of this community. That’s a big asset,” he said.
Combs said the recruitment efforts are all about getting the best and brightest for the good of the community.
“All doctors are good, but there are certainly some that are better than others. And our goal is to get those that are at the top — to bring them right here to Northeast Tennessee,” he said.