Norwegians happy to fill doctor gap

April 25, 2004|by RICHARD BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, PA. - Seven doctors - three orthopedic surgeons, two gastroenterologists and two cardiologists - are being recruited to replace specialists who left Franklin County in the wake of Pennsylvania's medical malpractice insurance crisis.

All seven have something in common - they are from Norway.

They are being lured to the United States by better pay and the challenges offered by a new and different environment.

"We have socialized medicine in Norway," gastroenterologist Arne Roseth said. "We make as much as an RN (registered nurse) does here."


Roseth, 48, and fellow gastroenterologist Jon Matre, 46, work at Waynesboro Hospital. They came here in August.

"Moving to America is a dream for many Norwegians," Roseth said. "There are more Norwegians in the United States than there are in Norway."

There are large populations of Norwegians in Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas, as well as the Seattle area, Roseth said. There are many in Brooklyn, N.Y., too, he said.

"At one time, there were several Norwegian language newspapers in Brooklyn," Roseth said.

Norway, because of its North Sea oil reserves, is one of the world's richest countries, Roseth said. The country is nearly the size of California and has about 4.5 million people, he said.

Roseth said he was on vacation on his 40-foot sailboat when he was contacted by Kim Stromberg of Chambersburg, Pa., a professional recruiter in the medical field, about moving to Franklin County.

"It came out of the blue," Roseth said. "I was in the middle of my summer vacation. At first, I told him I wasn't interested, that I had a good life."

He agreed to come for an interview and met with John J. McElwee Jr., vice president of Summit Health, which owns Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals.

Matre said it took him about a year to make up his mind to move here.

"I thought it would be difficult," he said. "I was happy with the way they took care of us. It was an easy process."

McElwee said the Norwegian physicians, especially Roseth, the first to be recruited, and Matre "took a tremendous leap of faith" in deciding to come to Franklin County.

There were many hurdles in the process, chief of which was getting the doctors licensed through the Pennsylvania Board of Medicine.

What helped is the fact that licensing requirements for physicians in Norway require longer and more extensive training than in the U.S.

"They are highly skilled," McElwee said of the Norwegians. "The board was impressed with their background, training and communication skills."

Most Norwegians younger than 50 speak English, Roseth said. School students there begin learning English in the first grade, Matre said.

While the board agreed to grant exceptions in the licensing requirements for the Norwegians, they still had to go through the review process.

"The board thought that this is a great plan to deal with the shortage of physicians in the state," McElwee said. "We are blessed by our success in attracting individuals of such high quality."

The other five Norwegian physicians already here or on the way include:

-- Stein Sletten, an orthopedic surgeon who will begin work at Waynesboro Hospital June 1.

-- Arnfinn Nanbjor, a cardiologist who will join Dr. Rose Dagen's practice in Waynesboro.

-- Henrik Hofgaard, who will join Sletten in September.

-- Arne Tysland, an orthopedic surgeon working in Chambersburg.

-- Jan Jolli, a cardiologist and classmate of Matre's who is working at the Franklin County Heart Center, which is owned by Keystone Health Center.

"There are others in the pipeline, but they haven't been signed yet," McElwee said.

The Norwegians brought their families with them. They send their children to local schools and are becoming part of the communities they work in, Matre said.

Matre's hobbies are hiking and playing jazz piano. He said the open landscape in Franklin County is a lot like it is in Norway.

The Norwegians stay in touch with friends and relatives back home through the Internet and return visits, Roseth said.

"A round-trip flight is only about $350," Roseth said. His wife, Mona, flies back often because she has a business in Norway, he said.

Roseth has latched onto one Franklin County tradition that already has paid off - deer hunting.

"I got two already," he said.

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