With a looming doctor shortage, local hospitals are making efforts to attract and retain physicians, and local colleges and universities are adapting their programs to meet the needs of the area.
Having Chicago so close is a double-edged sword for recruiting, said Jim Kirchner, vice president of physician integration for Methodist Hospitals.
On one hand, local hospitals are competing against some of the finest hospitals in the nation. On the other hand, Northwest Indiana has a lower cost of living and less expensive malpractice coverage while being close to Chicago's amenities, he said.
"For us, we try to use it to our advantage," he said.
Some doctors live and work in Northwest Indiana, while others live in Illinois and practice in Indiana.
An essential part in attracting physicians is finding a good fit.
"It's almost like a matchmaker," he said. "You want to make sure you're recruiting the right physician for the right opportunity. You don't want them to leave in 24 months. You need to work with them and find exactly what they're looking for."
Cheryl Harmon, chief financial officer for Porter Regional Hospital, said the hospital in its new facility and new location is in a growth position, which is part of the appeal for physicians.
"We spend a lot of time working on our quality indicators and certifications," she said. "If physicians know you're committed to quality and doing things for the community, they can be a part of it."
Physicians want to find a good fit.
"A lot of it is: Do we have the same vision as they have for how they want to practice?" Harmon asked.
Aside from competitive pay and benefits, physicians may be looking for a good school system for their children, safe neighborhood for their family or for high-tech equipment.
"Students coming out of training right now are used to some of the higher level technology," Kirchner said. "You don't want to have them taking a step back."
A physician with local ties is a plus, he said.
That goes hand-in-hand with efforts by area colleges and universities to recruit local residents as students and have them stay local to work.
"The premise is that it's well known that students who train in the area tend to stay in the area," said Pat Bankston, associate dean at Indiana University School of Medicine Northwest and dean of the College of Health and Human Services at IUN in Gary.
IUN offers a program to get high school students interested in studying medicine there. And, it has started hosting admissions interviews on campus, with the goal that physically bringing students to the Gary campus will influence their choice to study there, Bankston said.
Another retention strategy is to have the students develop professional relationships with the doctors they train with.
Bankston said he is optimistic the strategy will result in more locally trained people staying in the area after graduation to help meet the region's needs.
The university also offers programs in dental hygiene, social work, radiography, nursing and health information management, among other health-related paths, said Linda Delunas, associate dean in the College of Health and Human Services at IUN.
Many nursing students are from this area. Most are established locally and will continue to practice here, she said.
"We try to engage them early in service learning projects to develop a sense of community," Delunas said.
Purdue University Calumet in Hammond also offers programs in the health field, with nursing being one of the main paths.
"We've been at capacity, and we don't look for that to decline," said Lisa Hopp, professor of nursing at Purdue Calumet and director of the Indiana Center for Evidence Based Nursing Practice.
"One of the biggest challenges facing nursing education is faculty," she said.
As nursing professors retire, the challenge will be in recruiting instructors who are qualified to teach higher education, she said.
Pay is a factor.
"The competition is with the clinical environment," she said.
Cheryl Mioduski, enrollment manager for USF-Crown Point, said, along with students fresh out of high school, the school enrolls a lot of non-traditional students who are looking for a health care career.
"Our average age of student is 34," she said.
The associate degree in science and nursing is the biggest of its health programs, Mioduski said.
One of the new programs was developed when Alverno Clinic expressed a need for lab technicians to replace those who retire.
In the fall, USF began offering a two-year associate degree for medical lab technicians, she said.