Your physician contract that comes with a new job is critical to your future career, but you might not be as familiar with what to look for as you should be.
Lawyer James Dockery has represented physicians and dentists for nearly 20 years and has some insight into what you’ll likely come across on your contract.
Physician Contract – What to Review
When you’re a brand new doctor just out of residency, your contract will most likely include the following elements:
Non-compete clause – Pay attention to whether this clause is it within a city, state or specific mile radius. What is the time frame? Understand the law within that particular state.
Understand the salary – Your contract may specify a starting salary and a bonus provision. However, that bonus provision may not be achievable if it’s based on relative value units (RVU) that are not currently being met by the practice, so be aware of that.
Other provisions that could be negotiated – The signing bonus, repayment of student loans, attending medical conferences, and time off are some examples of contract areas that may be open to negotiation.
Termination provisions of the contract – How does the physician terminate it and how does the employer terminate?
Here is an example from James: “I had a contract where it would have automatically renewed unless the physician terminated or changed it to ‘contact 30 days prior to the contract expiration date.’ You must put the contract expiration date on the calendar and start thinking about it at least 6 months prior.”
Who Should Review Your Contract?
Don’t assume you know enough to confidently navigate your contract. James recommends you have a labor and employment attorney, preferably one who works with physicians, review your contract.
“A basketball player would never negotiate their own contract without an agent, so why would a highly educated doctor?”
He suggests looking through the American Health Lawyers Association to find one.
(Note: Physicians who will benefit the most from working with an attorney would be anyone working for a hospital or facility, or who works as a contractor. However, if you work for the VA on a set salary schedule, you may not need additional help with your contract because it’s mostly pre-determined.)
What if it’s your second or third contract? In this situation, the attorney you work with should base the game plan on your wishlist.
For example, do you want to work at the same practice or a different one? Where do you want to be personally and professionally over the next 3 to 5 years? Do you want to own a practice, be a contractor or work directly for an institution? These factors should influence what is in your contract.
Creating a Support Network as a Physician
James says it’s a big mistake for a doctor to not have a network of professionals surrounding them.
“Physicians need a board of directors that specialize in areas like legal assistance and finances because physicians are not usually educated in these areas,” he says. “Physicians could be missing critical opportunities in negotiating their own contracts.”
If you do decide to work with a professional for contract assistance, you will see a lot of variety in how much it costs. It’s going to be different if you’re a family doctor or a hyper-specialist like a brain surgeon or anesthesiologist.
But you can expect a very basic initial contract to start at $500, James says.
If you want more information about your physician contract, you can contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org.