Why Carteret County is attracting best-in-class healthcare professionals

Carteret Health Care in Morehead City has been named one of the top 100 hospitals in the United States for hospitals of its peer size -- 200 beds or smaller -- for the last four years.

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Latisha Catchatoorian
, WRAL Digital Solutions
This article was written for our sponsor, Crystal Coast Economic Development Foundation.

With beautiful beaches, a nationally recognized health care system, and a robust medical community, healthcare professionals in Carteret County get to surf and serve in the coastal paradise that they call home.

"In the first couple of years of living in Carteret County, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised with the ease at which we integrated into the community," said Dr. Mindy Merritt, a breast surgeon. Merritt moved to Carteret County in 2013 after completing a fellowship at the Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte. "The natural beauty of Carteret County combined with expansive spaces and much less traffic compared to other coastal medical communities makes Carteret County a hidden gem."

A partner at Carolinas Center for Surgery in Morehead City, Merritt provides breast care for benign and malignant disease, and works with a multidisciplinary cancer team that includes a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. In addition to breast care and surgeries, her practice also includes thyroid and parathyroid disease and general and emergency surgery.

Carteret County has been a great place for Merritt to grow both her career and a family, as she is also a wife and mother. She said she couldn't be more pleased with the family-friendly atmosphere of the town and said she has found the local medical community to be "welcoming and collaborative."

"The county is ever-changing. While retaining its charm, the needs of the community will change with it. Currently, there is a community need for expanded services in primary care, urology, neurology and gastroenterology," she said of Carteret Health Care, one of the places where she operates.

Carteret Health Care in Morehead City has been named one of the top 100 hospitals in the United States for hospitals of its peer size — 200 beds or smaller — for the last four years. It boasts a cardiac catheterization lab, a linear accelerator and a multidisciplinary cancer center. Additionally, diagnostic technology and an orthopedic robot are features that distinguish it from other similarly-sized hospitals.

Dick Brvenik, CEO of Carteret Health Care, said the Carteret Health Care system produces excellent quality outcomes and is financially strong, which he calls an "outlier" in the current healthcare ecosystem. A transplant, Brvenik spent 20 years vacationing in Carteret County before settling in the Crystal Coast for good when the job opportunity presented itself.

"My wife and I have always liked North Carolina," he said. "Mary and I had always talked about living here and certainly retiring here, which is, when I conclude my career, what we'll be doing — we're staying locally."

Brvenik said when he was being interviewed at the hospital, it was evident it was a healthcare system full of loyal people dedicated to the wellbeing of the organization and the community. In terms of recruitment, Brvenik noted the competitive marketplace of hiring physicians, but he said Carteret County has both the staff and the allure of the Crystal Coast to attract top talent.

"When physicians are looking for a job, they want to make sure that they'll be joining both a local medical network and a hospital that is of very high quality. They want to work with a medical staff that is very well trained. We have that here," he said. "We have physicians who come to us from prestigious medical schools in and out of state. Additionally, we provide many services, despite our size, that someone may not expect. I think physicians being recruited see that they can have a big impact not only with their patients, but on the overall health of our population."

Added Merritt, "At Carteret Health Care, there is a wide range of healthcare opportunities for non-physician professionals serving pharmacy, rehab, radiology, cath lab, cancer services, cardiopulmonary, operating room, emergency room, IT, lab/pathology, central sterile and medical education."

Another draw for healthcare professionals looking to work and live in Carteret County is the opportunity for private practice in a smaller community. Merritt said the community is small enough for everyone to have a special niche, but large enough to provide back-up and cross coverage in medical care. Also, Carteret County's projected growth with the new Interstate 42 is an added incentive for healthcare professionals to relocate to the Crystal Coast.

And of course, the quality of life in Carteret County, as Merritt puts it, "is superb."

It's no secret that healthcare professionals, especially doctors and nurses, clock in long hours. But when all is said and done, like other residents, they want to live in a place where the cost of living is affordable, the weather is nice, there are things to do, and the people are friendly.

"You can achieve work-life balance [in Carteret County]. Evening and weekend time is maximized when you live at the beach and don't have to spend hours driving here," Merritt said. "Your commute is really only determined by where you decide to live, and there are so many different communities to explore — from Emerald Isle to Beaufort and Down East."

Brvenik also noted the beauty of the area and all of the amenities Carteret County has "being a vacation destination with exquisite beaches." But in addition to the draw of restaurants, and cultural and outdoor activities, it's also the community of residents and patients that he gets to interact with everyday that make his Crystal Coast job satisfying.

"The people here are so warm and welcoming," he said.

While Carteret County is always looking for the right people to fulfill its healthcare needs, it's also a place that continues to attract best-in-class healthcare professionals like Merritt and Brvenik due to its small-town charm, stunning beaches and shorelines, and its outstanding public school system.

This article was written for our sponsor, Crystal Coast Economic Development Foundation.