By Dan Miller, WCI Contributor
Signing a physician contract can be exciting and frightening at the same time. After years of sacrifice and hard work (for little to no pay), you may feel that the end is in sight (at least financially). You may also feel a bit of trepidation, with the potential unknowns of a new situation looming over you. While some employers may present their physician contracts as “standard” or “take-it-or-leave-it,” the truth is that, in most cases, EVERYTHING can potentially be negotiated. Certainly, there are things you can ask for when negotiating your physician contract. This is especially true if you are fortunate enough to have offers from multiple prospective employers.
Here are a few things you might want to ask for in your next physician contract.
What Is a Physician Contract?
A physician contract (or a medical contract) is a catch-all term that usually covers contracts between a medical doctor and their employer. A physician contract may cover:
- Obligations: This includes a detailed description of your hours, on-call rotation, and outpatient or administrative duties
- Compensation: Your salary, bonus, and other monetary concerns
- Benefits: Insurance, student loan repayment, CME reimbursement, etc.
- Non-compete or work restrictions: Your employer may include language limiting where you can work if you leave their service
- Termination: The medical contract may spell out when and how your employer could terminate the contract, either with or without cause.
More information here:
6 Things to Ask For in a Physician Contract
What to Ask For in a Medical Contract Negotiation
If you've never negotiated a medical contract or physician contract before, you might feel that you are at a disadvantage when talking with HR professionals who do it regularly. As you prepare for your negotiation (either in person or over email), here are a few things to consider when negotiating your first physician salary contract:
- Ask about any non-compete clauses. Consider negotiating the length or geographical distance. At the very least, understand what it says and how that might affect your future employment opportunities.
- Make sure you understand how any sign-on bonuses or student loan repayments are handled.
- Ask if the employer offers occurrence or claims made malpractice insurance, and if claims made, who pays for the tail malpractice insurance.
- You should also understand and negotiate how any potential terminations might occur. It may seem strange to think about the end of your employment before it's even begun, but understanding what kind of notice is required, when you might qualify for severance, or other considerations is a savvy move.
- Get everything in writing. Don't count on any verbal or “handshake” promises, especially for something that's important to you.
More information here:
Contract Negotiation – 10 Tips from the Trenches
Questions to Ask in a Physician Contract Job Interview
If you're looking for specific questions to ask rather than these principles, the following physician contract questions might help you:
- “Will I be employed by the hospital or a private (and separate) company?”
- “Can I moonlight in a different field (or even in medicine for yourself or for another company)?”
- “What is the group’s payer mix?”
- “How many patients will I see on average?”
- “What is the on-call schedule, who participates, and how might that change over time?”
There are many types of physician contracts and these questions should help prepare you to get the best possible outcome that you can.
Should I Have My Physician Contract Reviewed by a Lawyer?
Depending on your situation, it's probably a good idea to engage the services of a physician contract lawyer or another type of attorney that does contract reviews. A few hundred dollars now could save hundreds of thousands (and the accompanying heartache and hassle) later.
Physician contract review costs can run hundreds of dollars, though costs vary depending on several factors. But when you think about it, the difference between a good physician contract and an average physician contract could be tens of thousands of dollars or more over the course of several years. So, having your contract reviewed by an expert during the physician contract negotiation phase can be a smart idea. Unfortunately, many physicians end up with a below-average contract and become saddled with extra costs, burdensome non-compete contracts, or other poor consequences.
The Bottom Line
Negotiating your first (or any) physician contract can be a stressful time, but it doesn't have to be. Knowing what to expect can help you feel more prepared as you negotiate your medical contract. Remember, just about everything is negotiable, especially if you have multiple offers on the table. It never hurts to ask (and don't forget to get it in writing!), because you'll never have more leverage than you do before you put your pen to paper and sign on the dotted line.
If you have more questions or you want help with reviewing your physician contract, hire a WCI-vetted professional to help you figure it out.
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