New Jersey is facing a physician
shortage—and there’s no cure in
BY WAYNE J. GUGLIELMO
PHOTOS BY MATT RAINEY
DR. GERALD CIOCE DOESN’T THINK of himself as a
risk taker. On his way to becoming an interventional
cardiologist, he followed what he calls “a very traditional” route: premed at Villanova University, medical school at Robert Wood Johnson (now part of Rutgers), and residency and fellowships at Tufts University in Boston and the University of Massachusetts.
Even when the New Jersey native began looking for
his first real job back home in 2008, he sought out
practices that had established programs in his specialty. It
seemed like the smart thing—the path many of his colleagues
But Cioce’s job search presented him with a different kind
of opportunity, one that was literally off the beaten path. In
Newton, in rural Sussex County, the multimember Cardiolo-
gy Associates was seeking an interventionalist to join its staff.
Neither the practice nor the area had the services of a doctor
in that specialty—one who treats heart problems using cathe-
ters, or thin, flexible tubes inserted in veins and arteries. And,
though nearby Newton Hospital—renamed Newton Medical
Center in 2011—had opened a diagnostic catheterization lab
several years earlier, it was staffed by invasive cardiologists
from the practice when they were not seeing their general
cardiology patients. For patients requiring an emergency in-
tervention such as a stent placement, the typical option was
an ambulance or helicopter ride to Morristown Medical Cen-
ter—which, like Newton, is part of the Atlantic Health Sys-
tem—about 35 miles away.
For Cioce, the opening at Cardiology Associates was a
chance to build his own program in a region that desper-
ately needed one. The prospect both excited and unnerved
him. The practice’s partners were as reassuring as they could
be, but they too were treading on new ground. And when he
mentioned the opening to his mentors in Massachusetts, they
urged caution. “It sounds like a bit of a gamble,” Cioce was
told. Even his fiancée—whom he had met during his fellow-
ship at UMass Medical Center, where she worked as a nurse—
was not initially thrilled by the opportunity, although less be-
cause it was risky than because it was in the Jersey sticks.
The rural lifestyle is not for everyone, and that’s a key reason many of the state’s more remote areas have unmet specialty care needs. But this is just one manifestation of the
widespread and growing shortage of doctors in New Jersey.