How far from the hospital should I live in residency?

Continuing our theme of housing and home-buying topics for folks who are getting ready to start residency, let’s consider another common question: how far should I live from the hospital? 

Of course, as with anything else, it depends. Let’s look at a few of the factors to consider.

Commute Time

It’s important to remember that as a resident you will be spending 80 hours a week at work, working an average of six days out of seven, 48 weeks per year. This means that your commute time adds up quickly. As a medical student, I lived 30-45 minutes from the hospital (depending on traffic). So every work day included 60-90 minutes total in the car, on top of my scheduled shifts. Working six days per week, this means six to nine hours spent in the car every week! 

When it was time to find a house for residency, I see it this way: I have to spend 80 hours a week at work, regardless of where I live. I have to sleep, eat, and shower, and these take the same amount of time if I live 5 minutes from work or 45. So if I spend more time commuting, what part of my day does that block of time come out of?

Commuting time comes out of my daily “free time” – the time I would otherwise spend on hobbies, studying, or with my family.

Because of that, I personally wanted to live as close as possible to work.

Cost

But Indy, you may be thinking, houses and apartments are so much more expensive close to the hospital! I can save $300/month by living 20 minutes from work!

That’s a great point, but there is something else to consider: commuting isn’t free!

Every time you drive somewhere, you not only use gas, you put wear on your car, getting that much closer to the next set of new tires, the next oil change, the next scheduled xx-mile service. Currently, the IRS estimates that when you combine all of these costs, driving costs about 50¢/mile on average. Sure, that will be lower if you drive a hybrid and higher if you drive a Hummer, but it gives us a starting point.

So let’s compare a few options:

Right now I live about half a mile from the hospital. Assuming that I drive every day, that means I drive one mile round trip per day, 6 days/week, 48 weeks/year, or 288 miles/year. This costs me $144/year or $12/month. Not bad!

The other neighborhood where we were looking would have put us about 3 miles from the hospital. That would make my commute 6 miles round trip per day, 6 days/week, 48 weeks/year, or 1,728 miles/year at a cost of $864/year or $72/month. That’s a little worse, but still less than most people pay for their internet or coffee.

One of my colleagues lives about 15 miles away, so she commutes 30 miles/day at a cost of $4,320/year or $360/month.

As you can see, once you start commuting more than about 10-15 miles, the costs add up quickly! So that apartment 15 miles away from work that costs $200 less a month actually ends up being more expensive than living close to work!

What if you buy a house? Well, this is a very simplistic way to look at it, but $72/month covers 5% interest on $17k – so you can afford to buy a house that costs $17k more if you live 3 miles closer to the hospital.

Value of your time

The other thing to consider, which relates to both of the above, it what you will do with the extra time. For example, if you spend 9 hours a week in the car (a 45-minute one-way commute, as we saw above), what other things would you have done with that time if you weren’t spending it commuting? 

For me, this was mostly time with my family. But for others, having an extra 8 hours a week might mean that you can pick up a moonlighting shift every couple of weeks and make a few hundred (or even a thousand) dollars. It might mean the difference between mowing your own lawn and paying someone else to do it. All of these things cost money, and add to the cost of commuting a long distance.

Essential Personnel

At many hospitals, the inpatient teams, such as the residents staffing labor and delivery, are considered “essential personnel.” What does this mean? It means that if it snows and the roads are impassable, you are still expected to be at work. Practically speaking, this means that if you live far enough away that you wouldn’t be able to get to work in a storm, you may have to sleep at the hospital the night before your shift if bad weather is in the forecast. And after your shift, when you could go home, you may find yourself stuck. My colleagues who live far away end up spending the night with one of us who lives closer to work, sometimes for a couple of days at a time. This is especially tough if you have a family. Can you imagine not seeing your kids for 48 hours or more because you were snowed in at work? Can you imagine how your spouse will feel about that?

Having witnessed this dilemma as a medical student, it was important to me to live close enough to the hospital that, no matter the weather, I can always get to and from work. When the weather is bad and the roads aren’t safe, I walk. Consider that another advantage of living within a mile or so of work.

 

 

 

So, what’s the bottom line? Especially in residency, when time and money are tight, it may be worth paying more for housing to save on commuting costs, and to save the headache of being stuck at work any more than you already are.

 

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