As a physician, your contract determines more than what is expected of you, but also has a very strong impact on your quality of life outside of work.
This important document isn’t a mere formality. It’s one of the most important pieces of paper you’ll sign, so even after you think you’ve negotiated an all-star agreement, consider working with a contract review attorney to ensure your contract is fair and legal.
Start With the Offer Letter
For many physicians, the job negotiation process begins with a formal offer letter that you have the option to sign and return to the employer. It’s at this stage, not at the final negotiation stage, that you should begin the negotiation process. Since your offer letter constitutes a legally binding contract once it’s signed, it’s also a good idea to get an employment attorney to go over it before you sign. Doing so can help you avoid a common rookie mistake of signing an offer letter that presents terms you can’t live with over the long haul.
Know the Market
It doesn’t matter what a physician in a different specialty who lives halfway across the country makes. You need to know the market in your area, for your specific niche. Research average starting salaries for physicians with experience comparable to your own. Then use this information to leverage your skills and experience into a better offer.
Too many young doctors hope their resume alone is sufficient to land them a dream job. You can’t rely on your credentials to talk for you.
Many employers only take a cursory look, then focus on what you say during the interview. This means selling yourself during the interview is of paramount importance. It’s not enough to convince a prospective employer that you’re a good doctor; the key, instead, is to sell them on the idea that you’re the right doctor for the job they’re offering. Some starting points for negotiation include:
- Any personal connection you have to the practice, physicians in the practice, or the specialty in question.
- Any stellar personal history with the specialty in question. This is especially important for new doctors.
- The unique set of skills you bring to the practice. If you can program computers, fix furniture, or routinely are able to calm angry patients, be sure to mention this.
- Your practice history or, if you’re new to medicine, your grades, classes, and recommendations.
- Your previous employment history. If you’re worked for a particularly impressive or competitive practice or hospital, you need to note this.
- Any awards you’ve received.
- Your publication history. It’s especially helpful if you’ve published a very popular or heavily cited study.
Focus On What Matters to You
There’s no such thing as a universal contract. Every contract is tailored and every contract contains negotiable provisions – no matter what any recruiter may tell you.
Instead, what matters is a contract that works well for your needs. Determine what your biggest priorities are. Compensation? Flexible hours? Vacation time? A demanding work environment? Then negotiate to get these options by being willing to give up things about which you care little.
If this phase of your career is dedicated to saving as much money as you can, consider asking for higher compensation in return for longer hours. Or if you’re worried about spending time with your family, try asking for more flexible work time in return for slightly reduced compensation.
It’s also important to find contract terms you’re not comfortable with and directly address them. Your contract might assign you more liability than you’re comfortable with or demand your presence at weekend meetings, for example. Don’t neglect to address these issues; often they’re up for negotiation.
Find a Connection
You’ll be a more appealing candidate if you have a firm connection to the practice or the work it does. But you’ll be much less likable if you see to care only about money or benefits. Rather than highlighting all of the higher offers you’ve received, try instead to emphasize the reasons you really want to be able to take the job in question. Most people welcome the chance to do others a favor or help their dreams come true, so presenting your counter-offer in these terms can be a game changer.
Understand Contract Language
You went to medical school, not law school. Don’t be afraid to seek out an attorney that understands the language used in medical contracts to review your employment contract. Resolve’s attorney team specifically handles physician contracts, seeing thousands every year, which provides insight that even a general lawyer doesn’t have.
Subtle changes in a contract’s language can dramatically alter the effects of the contract. It is well worth your time and money to spend a few hundred dollars with an employment attorney who can tell you exactly what your contract does – and doesn’t – mean.
Research has repeatedly shown that contract negotiators win big in the long-run. Savvy negotiators can earn as much as 10% to 20% more, and can often land major benefits and plenty of time off. Don’t jump onto the first offer you receive. Take your time; do some research, and don’t be afraid of standing up for your interests.