It’s important to understand that negotiating physician employment agreements begins with the first recruitment call. Too many physicians “give away the farm” before the first offer is even produced.
Becoming totally passive and pliant about the negotiations of a physician employment agreement is not recommended. Your employer is likely to conclude that you just don’t care very much about provisions in the contract that are naturally important to the employer. Once that conclusion is made, your chances of getting a reasonable offer are greatly diminished. Obtaining just the right balance between firm but amicable can be difficult for physicians attempting to negotiate their own employment agreements.
The “secret” known to all experienced physicians’ attorneys is that all physician employment contracts are negotiable. I have obtained concessions on important provisions from massive health systems, as well as small private practices when negotiating physician employment agreements. When the person you are dealing with tells you the first draft is the “standard” contract for all physicians, he or she is either misrepresenting the situation or is misinformed.
You have developed a massive amount of knowledge and experience in your medical specialty, but that specialty is the practice of medicine – not the business of medicine. You are about to sign the biggest deal of your life. Don’t leave money on the table, or get trapped by a contract you will hate for years.
Most importantly, don’t ever make oral commitments to the recruiter or anybody else you are dealing with. Nobody doubts your ability to be quick and decisive in medical situations. Don’t feel that you need to demonstrate these qualities in negotiating physician employment agreements, where you haven’t had the massive training you’ve had in medicine. Even an experienced physicians’ attorney won’t make a snap commitment – they will always condition any concurrence on a review of the documents.
Don’t put yourself in the position of feeling that you can’t let your attorney negotiate a point in your physician employment agreement that the attorney says is unfavorable. The “dumb doc” often gets the best overall contract, without straining the relationship with future colleagues.
The purpose of this blog is to allow you to understand the basics, so that if you engage an attorney to negotiate your physician employment agreement you are fully aware of the importance of the points the attorney is negotiating on your behalf. Just as your patients will enjoy better outcomes if they become involved in their medical care, you will enjoy a better outcome if you are knowledgeable about the key aspects of negotiating physician employment agreements.
By the same token, you aren’t the right doctor for every patient and every ailment. You have likely concentrated your efforts on mastery of a relatively small field of medicine, and will call in a specialist for issues outside your expertise. Don’t rely on a “jack-of-all-trades” lawyer in this important negotiation. Be certain to engage an attorney who concentrates his or her practice on negotiating physician employment agreements.
I’ve been performing physician contract review for over 40 years, and I’ve seen some provisions that were truly atrocious. I’ve also had the benefit of 40 years of negotiations, generally between attorneys who truly care about getting the best deal possible for their client. Win-win negotiations produce variations that work for both parties, and the benefit of these work-arounds can be used in future negotiations, so that the last contract an experienced attorney works on can really be the best one yet.
To learn more about the critical issues to be aware of when negotiating a physician employment agreement, you can see my podcast of the 4 most common traps in physician employment agreements, my physician employment agreement checklist or, for the most extensive discussion of the topic, my book on physician employment agreements. For specific information on topics you might be interested in, see my posts about physician productivity compensation, MGMA compensation analysis, medical record provisions in physician employment agreements, letters of intent in physician contracts, physician covenants not to compete, and call coverage requirements.