The old joke about recruiting doctors to Buffalo is that they have to have been born here, or have family or friends.
That wasn’t always the case, of course. But there was enough to it to reinforce Buffalo’s image as a hard sell to anyone without a connection.
As the city has slowly recovered, maybe so have perceptions.
The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus developed from vision to reality, and the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences moved downtown, setting the stage to create a reputation-improving academic medical center.
Recent medical recruits like Dr. Steven D. Schwaitzberg noticed the changes.
Schwaitzberg, who arrived this year from Harvard University to chair the UB Department of Surgery, saw an opportunity to lead a large surgery training program as the medical campus took off in a big way.
“My first reaction when I was contacted was why would I want to leave Boston and come to Buffalo,” he said. “But the perception of Buffalo trails the reality. No one in Boston knows Buffalo is on the rise.”
Dr. Peter Elkin came from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City in 2013 to become the first chairman of UB’s then-new Department of Biomedical Informatics.
His wife is from Rochester, and he worked for a few years for the Eastman Kodak Co., so he was familiar with Upstate New York. He directed Mount Sinai’s Center for Biomedical Informatics, and he gets a chance here to build a department from the ground up.
“I saw the growth and the investment by the state in the university,” he said.
Elkin and Schwaitzberg head academic departments, positions that should be attractive regardless of a city’s image. But they both also looked at Western New York with fresh eyes, without having lived through decades of economic stagnation to darken the view.
“Harvard is great, and having reached the benchmark of becoming a professor was terrific. But Harvard is big and more developed. It’s harder to make changes. There is growth here and a willingness to be innovative that was a big selling point for me,” said Schwaitzberg.
Perhaps a truer test of Buffalo’s rejuvenation is whether it can interest homegrown talent to return or keep it from leaving in the first place.
Dr. Tova Ablove, a specialist in female pelvic medicine, offers a positive answer. She is from New York City and graduated from UB’s medical school. Her husband, Robert, an orthopedic surgeon, grew up in Kenmore and did his medical fellowships and residency in Buffalo.
They were both working in Madison, Wis., waiting for a reason to come back and did in 2013.
“We watched Buffalo decline, but there is momentum now,” she said. “If you are looking for a reason to return, you are getting it.”
It’s Buffalo, so we know to balance hope with skepticism. Still, maybe it’s time to make the recruitment joke a thing of the past.