It’s the oldest trick in the book, because it works. The individual that hands you the impressively typed agreement solemnly swears that this is the employer’s “standard physician employment contract”. You are led to believe that an act of Congress (or maybe more) is required to change one iota. If everybody else has signed this exact physician employment agreement, why shouldn’t you?
The reason you shouldn’t sign the “standard physician employment agreement” is that most likely very few other physicians have signed this exact agreement. No matter what the recruiter/office manager/department head tells you, every employer is willing to tweak your agreement. I have negotiated literally hundreds of physician employment agreements, and I have never, in over 20 years of practice, had an employer refuse to change anything. I’ve obtained increases in compensation, adjustments to productivity requirements, and innumerable changes to language that is sometimes almost laughable in the brutal effect it would have on the physician. From large health systems to small private practices, virtually every employer is willing to negotiate the terms of employment for a physician they really want (and if they offered you the job, that is you).
Many physicians seem to want to impress their new employer with their willingness to be a team player. In fact, if you think the employer is going to have a problem with giving you a reasonable physician employment agreement, then maybe you need to rethink the desirability of working for Grinch Health System. I’m not suggesting that you pound the table and make exorbitant demands (the new guy gets Christmas call – deal with it). But if language is clearly one-sided, or if the compensation or productivity seem unreasonable, then you owe it to yourself to try to get a reasonable deal. Beating you up splendidly may improve the employer’s bottom line for a few quarters, but if they can’t keep you happy, you will likely either leave or generally add to the malaise of the workplace. Recruiting a physician is expensive and time-consuming. It’s best for both the employer and the physician to arrange a deal that is tolerable in the long-term.
There are a few problems with doing it yourself. The biggest is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Sure, you can read a book like “The Final Hurdle” but you may not catch the legal significance of some of the language in the agreement. In addition, having an attorney be the bad guy helps smooth future relations with the employer. A good attorney will always present your case as if the attorney is asking for the concessions, not you. In addition, getting the employer’s attorney involved is often the quickest way to getting substantive changes to the agreement.
Every year, MGMA lists the various percentiles of physician compensation and productivity. Coming out of training, it isn’t reasonable to expect to hit the 90th percentile of compensation. BUT, you also shouldn’t be stuck at the 10th percentile. Knowing what physicians in your specialty earn, and the productivity expected of them is the first step in getting a fair physician employment agreement. There are many ways of getting the best deal, through a combination of practice management consultants to evaluate the compensation, and a competent physician’s attorney to evaluate the language. I have developed my own proprietary system, the Physician’s Prosperity Program® that combines the two. By all means, check out the Physician’s Prosperity Program®, but whether or not you choose to use our full system or some other way of negotiating your contract, don’t sign the “standard physician employment agreement” (unless your unicorn tells you to).