Best states to practice medicine in 2021

By Paul Basilio
Published April 23, 2021

Key Takeaways

While it is certainly true that quite a lot has happened in the field of medicine since the last time MDLinx published a list of the best states to practice in 2019 (and the worst), one thing hasn’t changed: You have to love where you live.

If you’re one of the many physicians considering a big change or an escape to new scenery, we sure hope you like mountains and plains.

This year’s analysis considered several key factors for both professional and lifestyle quality of life. All factors were weighted equally to calculate each state’s final rank. States were ranked on a scale from 1 to 50 in each category, with 1 being best. The average of these scores generated our overall ranking.

The following factors—gathered from the most recent data available—determined our overall ranking.

Career Quality of Life

  • Overall pay for physicians – Data from the May 2020 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Lowest cost of living – Data from the 2020 Composite Cost of Living Index published by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.

  • Lowest physician density – From the 2019 State Physician Workforce Data Report published by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

  • Lowest cost of malpractice insurance – From the 2018 ranking of direct premiums earned by the medical professional liability insurance market in the United States published by Statista.

  • Most tax-friendly – Data on the 2019 state and local tax burdens by the Tax Foundation.

  • Quality of healthcare – Data from the 2019-2020 US News and World Report Health Care Quality Rankings.

Lifestyle Quality of Life

  • Overall US State Ranking – Data from the 2021 US News and World Report Best State Rankings.

  • Best quality of life – From the 2021 WalletHub Best & Worst States for Families.

  • Best higher education environment – Data from the 2019-2020 US News and World Report Higher Education Rankings.

  • Best Community Wellbeing – Data compiled from 2019 Community Well-Being Index by the Boston University School of Public Health and Sharecare.

Unfortunately, not enough comparable data were available for Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, so those areas were not ranked.

Without further ado, we proudly present to you the list of the best states to practice medicine in 2021.

10. Colorado


Not the biggest paycheck, but the views can’t be beat.

The Centennial state fell from its #4 in our overall Best States to Practice Medicine ranking in 2019, but it still managed to stay in the top 10. While it’s lacking in overall physician pay (#40), the land of the Rockies ranked high in healthcare quality (#5), higher education environment (#5), and community well-being (#8).

9. Iowa


The Hawkeye State has been slipping in our rankings since being named the #1 state to practice in 2018 (named #2 in 2019), but it’s still among the best states for physicians.

It’s ranked #25 in overall pay, but each paycheck will get you a little further than in many other places—it’s #12 in cost of living. There’s plenty of room to set up a practice (#16 in physician density), and it’s one of the best states to raise a family (#12) and go to college (#11).

8. Wisconsin


Ranked #8 in overall pay, you’ll likely not be taking home a huge paycheck due to the cost of living (#23), malpractice insurance cost (#23), and general tax-unfriendliness (#37).

However, America’s Dairyland is a great place to raise a family (#14) and get quality healthcare (#8). It’s also just an all-around good place to be, as it came in #8 in the US News & World Report overall state ranking.

6. Washington (Tie)


The Evergreen state is a pricy place to live overall (#39), but it’s community rankings are hard to beat. Ranked #1 overall by US News & World Report, the birthplace of grunge also ranked #2 in overall education and #8 in places to raise a family.

One word of caution before packing up and moving: The state dance is the square dance.

6. Nebraska (Tie)


Ranked #3 in 2019, the Cornhusker State slid in the polls but still earned solid marks.

Nebraska took a hit in the tax-friendly ranking (#32) but made a strong showing in overall pay (#9), malpractice cost (#10), overall state ranking (#6), and higher education environment (#10). It’s also one of the best places in the nation to raise a family (#11).

5. Minnesota


In 2019, the Land of 10,000 Lakes ranked #12.

This year, the birthplace of Prince received low marks on taxes (#46) and struggled in the middle of the rankings for cost of living (#31), malpractice cost (#24), and healthcare quality (#31). However, the state excelled in the overall state ranking (#2) and best states to raise a family (#2).

4. South Dakota

South Dakota

South Dakota—Home to Mount Rushmore and Deadwood—rose in our rankings from its #7 spot in 2019. It ranks #1 in physician pay and #2 in malpractice insurance costs, although it came in at a surprising #27 in physician density.

Other highlights include a robust higher education environment (#8) and family friendliness (#13). 

3. Wyoming


Climbing up all the way from #6 on our 2019 list, The Equality State excels in the professional categories thanks in part to no individual or corporate income taxes.

Wyoming ranked #2 in tax friendliness, #3 in pay, and #4 in malpractice cost. Practice opportunities abound as well—the state ranked #11 in physician density.

2. North Dakota

North Dakota

The 2019 champion and birth state of Lawrence Welk slips to #2 on our overall list.

Take high pay (#4), low malpractice insurance (#1), a friendly tax system (#9), and add in the fact that it’s a great place for families (#3), and you’ve got yourself a pretty good state to run a practice in.

And the #1 state to practice medicine is…Utah!


After ranking #10 overall in 2019, The Beehive State takes home 2021’s top prize.

Naturally, Utah ranked #1 in overall physician density, but it also took high honors for healthcare quality (#3), overall state ranking (#3), best states for families (#10), higher education environment (#6), and community well-being (#7).

With eight national monuments, five national parks, and seven national forests, there’s plenty to do on the weekends.

Continue reading for the full set of Top 25 States to Practice, as well as the Top 10s for Career and Lifestyle.

Best States for Physicians to Practice

25. California

24. Kansas

23. Arizona

22. Alaska

21. Indiana

20. Oregon

19. Nevada

18. Florida

17. New Hampshire

16. North Carolina

15. New Jersey

14. Massachusetts

13. Idaho

12. Virginia

11. Hawaii

10. Colorado

9. Iowa

8. Wisconsin

6. Washington (Tie)

6. Nebraska (Tie)

5. Minnesota

4. South Dakota

3. Wyoming

2. North Dakota

1. Utah

Best States for Physicians—Career Factors

10. Georgia

9. Arizona

8. Indiana

7. Iowa

6. Tennessee

5. South Dakota

4. Wyoming

3. North Dakota

2. Idaho

1. Utah

Best States for Physicians—Lifestyle Factors

10. California

9. New Jersey

8. Virginia

7. Colorado

6. New York

5. Nebraska

4. Minnesota

3. Massachusetts

2. Utah

1. Washington

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