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Five Mistakes to Avoid During Your Next Physician Contract Negotiation

Jackson Physician Search
March 24, 2021

In the first installment of our three-part series on physician contracts, we outlined six of the components that make up an employment agreement. In the second installment, we highlighted aspects that are often negotiable and shared pro tips for doing it successfully. In this final installment, we will discuss five mistakes that physicians can quite easily avoid during a physician contract negotiation.

Mistake #1: Fly Solo

Your physician contract will probably contain more foreign words than the Histology text you learned in medical school. To be prepared for your contract negotiation, don’t fly solo. Rather, seek experienced counsel. While it is advisable to consult a lawyer with experience in the healthcare industry, at a minimum, have a physician mentor or an experienced colleague help walk you through the details.

Mistake #2: Not Knowing What is Most Important to You

What is most important to you is going to be different from that of other physicians who are negotiating and signing their employment contracts. The key is to have already determined which aspects of your agreement will have the greatest impact on your happiness. Even though it seems counter-intuitive to a newer physician who is saddled with enormous student loan debt, try not to make salary the most important factor. Other clauses might carry more weight in ensuring your success. Each clause of the contract has a role in advancing your career goals, well-being, and lifestyle. When you make it all about salary, you end up ignoring or discounting other things that matter in the long run.

Mistake #3: Ignore the Details

Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring or glossing over even the simplest of contractual clauses. For example, they want you to start on a specific date after ending your current commitment. So, everything works, right? Maybe. But what if you need a few extra days to pack up your things, tie up loose ends, and move 380 miles to the new place? Make sure your start date works for what you have to accomplish before starting the new role. You may even want to build in a little time for a family vacation. Another seemingly simple clause that can trip you up is the duration of the contract. Does it automatically renew year over year, or is it a fixed length? Some contracts may be written to be indefinite, which can cost you money if it isn’t revisited at some point.

Mistake #4: Gloss Over Job Expectations

You are being hired to be an XYZ physician. It’s not more complicated than that, right? If that is your mindset, it might get you into trouble. Your employment contract should clearly spell out your areas of responsibility. The language should expressly state your clinical expectations and the non-clinical expectations, such as medical records, phone calls, and administrative tasks. You should also understand what is expected of you in terms of training others, serving on boards, and even participating in research. Avoid agreeing to responsibilities that are described with vague statements, such as “will perform other duties as assigned.”

Mistake #5: Assume You Will Never Resign

For the millions of people who have read and now practice Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” the second habit speaks to envisioning the results of what you hope to achieve. When negotiating a physician contract, the end is just as important as everything in the middle. Unfortunately, it is mistakenly overlooked by many physicians. For example, when starting a new job, you aren’t naturally inclined to think about termination clauses. But, detailing how much notice you have to provide your employer before leaving, or they, before terminating you, should be considered. As a newly employed physician, you should have protections in place regarding the amount of notice you will receive before being terminated without cause. Other clauses that get overlooked concern how you may be impacted if the organization merges or is acquired by new ownership. In some cases, your contract continues uninterrupted under the new structure, but in others, it is terminated upon an ownership change. This scenario results in you having to find new employment or negotiating a new contract.  None of this is meant to throw cold water on the excitement of a new job but is common enough to warrant your attention.

Negotiating your next physician contract is a microcosm of your whole career. A successful negotiation and career require honest, open, and transparent communication. The foundation of any strong working relationship is your ability to communicate, and it all starts with your contract negotiation. As long as you are prepared and have a trusted confidant, this process should be smooth and stress-free. Having a positive experience will lay the groundwork for a long and productive career.

If you are a new physician or find you’re ready for a new job opportunity, Jackson Physician Search has an experienced team of recruitment professionals who can help you find the practice setting that is right for you. Contact us today and learn about the difference we can make in your job search.

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