Upper West Side Psychiatrist Commutes to Work in Canada

by Brett Dahlberg

Jack Lucas, an Upper West Side psychiatrist, relaxes on a bench outside Riverside Park near 86th Street.
Photo: Brett Dahlberg

Jack Lucas slouches on an Upper West Side park bench, flat cap atop his head, F. Scott Fitzgerald book in one hand and cigar in the other. “It’s my only vice,” says Lucas, a psychiatrist, as he takes a puff, removes his reading glasses, and places them on the bench next to his thermos. “I’ve smoked one a day on this block for the last six years.”

Lucas, 65, who was born in Piermont, New York, and grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has lived on the Upper West Side for 20 years. The rise in housing costs, and the associated decrease in socioeconomic diversity, are the two most significant changes Lucas has seen in his neighborhood since he arrived. “My wife and I find ourselves thinking, ‘Wow, this apartment is worth—,’” Lucas said, stopping himself before the end of the sentence. “Well, a lot more than we bought it for.”

Jack Lucas, an Upper West Side psychiatrist, describes how he found himself splitting his time between Manhattan and Ontario. "Everywhere I go, it seems like people are trying to get rid of me."
Photo: Brett Dahlberg

Lucas has practiced psychiatry in New York City for decades, but he is now one of a growing number of New York doctors who commute to Canada for work. American doctors strained by complicated insurance requirements after the passage of the Affordable Care Act are increasingly moving their practices north: from 2010 to 2015, the number of American doctors employed in Canada has increased by 24%, compared with a 16% increase over the five years prior to the passage of Obamacare.

Lucas sees a pattern in his tendency to travel for work: “everywhere I go, it seems like people are trying to get rid of me,” he said.

After finishing medical school at Pennsylvania State University’s campus in Hershey, Lucas completed his residency in South Africa. “Apartheid was jarring,” he said. Having worked alongside white and black doctors on his first shift, Lucas described watching the staff separate as they filed into the cafeteria “like lines of ants—and not by choice. It was the law.”

Lucas’ first foray into working in Canada came in 2002, when he began spending two weeks a month in Saint John’s, Newfoundland. “There are dialects there that haven’t been heard since 17th-century Ireland,” Lucas said. Practicing psychiatry in Saint John’s, a seaside town on an island separated from the Canadian mainland, helped him see that the profession “lends itself to a certain civility among people—we’re all in this together.”

His time in Newfoundland also moderated Lucas’ political views. “Going to college in the Vietnam era was a radicalizing experience,” he said. “I was around when people were deciding which side to be on when tanks came rolling down the street.” Surrounded by working-class families who had lived amicably alongside each other for generations, Lucas found himself tempering his views to a place “somewhere between the unabashed Randist objectivism of my adolelscence and the revolutionary left of my college years.”

After several years working exclusively in the United States, Lucas returned to spending two weeks each month in Canada in 2012. “I’d retire if I could,” says Lucas, who now splits his work between New York and Owen Sound, Ontario, 120 miles north of Toronto. “I make too much money, though.”