A Client’s Story
Glenn feels like he’s been a student his whole life (because he has). From high school to college to med school to fellowship – it’s been an unbroken string of gathering knowledge and skills. Glenn is more or less used to the life of a student. From dorm room to small apartments, he is accustomed to a frugal life. The student lifestyle has made it relatively easy to move from college to med school to fellowship. He doesn’t have a lot of possessions, and what he does have is not top-of-the-line. His wife, Susie, works. Her income has eased some of the strains of trying to live on a modest fellowship stipend. Still, no one would describe their lifestyle as luxurious. They get out to eat once in a while, and their cars are serviceable, if not exciting. It’s not really a horrible life, and since most of Glenn and Susie’s friends are in the same situation as they are, they don’t feel particularly deprived.
It’s not like they have a lot of free time together to spend money anyway. Still, Glenn is aware that the attendings are living better than he is. Someday, he knows he will be in the same situation. And then suddenly (after a mere 8 to 12 years of advanced education) Glenn is nearing the light at the end of the tunnel. His life as a struggling student is almost over! He is painfully aware that this next step in his career is going to be huge.
Glenn is getting job offers, at income levels that are almost unimaginable in his current lifestyle. But he is very worried that he might make a mistake. The people at the interviews seemed nice. They all assured him that it was a good place to practice – but of course they would, wouldn’t they? Glenn and Susie both want this to be his “forever” job – but what if it isn’t? Are they going to go through all the stress of moving, only to find out that practicing medicine there isn’t at all what Glenn expected, or is intolerable?
Susie always “knew” that a move was coming, but now the reality is hitting home that a resignation will be required, and she will want a new job at the new location. A few of her colleagues know she will be moving soon, and she is noticing a change in the way people are treating her. She hasn’t announced her resignation yet, but it seems like her co-workers are already treating her like a temporary employee. She feels isolated and alone at work, and somewhat overwhelmed at the prospect of finding a new position and starting over at a new employer.
To add to Glenn’s stress, he now realizes that the details of his new position (really his new life) are going to be defined in a legal document. Glenn needs to sign a physician employment agreement, and only then can he begin the life he has been striving toward his whole life. What a let-down! Glenn went into medicine to help people, and he knows he now has the clinical skills to make a difference in thousands of people’s lives over the course of his career. But the contract is all about his duties to the employer and work expectations. It’s like they are hiring a janitor – not adding a colleagues who is bringing so much knowledge and caring to the treatment of patients. Did all his training simply prepare him to be a corporate cog, just another worker who happens to wear a white coat?
Glenn has read thousands of pages of extraordinarily complicated text in his career. Now he just needs to study these few pages of the contract so he is sure of what he’s getting into. Glenn has spoken to a lot of his friends, so he has some idea of the dollar amounts of the salary being offered to them. But Glenn’s contract has compensation language that is not clear to him. Although he is comfortable making split-second medical decisions, there seem to be a million variables in trying to decide whether or not to accept this position, and his training has not prepared him for this.
As Glenn reads and rereads this contract he gets a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach telling him that he is in over his head. Glenn really wants this position – it’s going back home for him and Susie. Going home as a physician has always been Glenn’s dream. It’s what has kept him going through all these grueling year of training. They’ve talked about starting a family, and having their kids close to the grandparents is important to them. They are already thinking about how nice it will be to have dinner with their parents from time to time.
They both very much want this position to be Glenn’s forever job, but they know that a bad contract can make their lives miserable. They have heard horror stories about contracts that prevent physicians from staying in the same vicinity when they leave employment. After all these years away, they don’t want to have to move again because of a bad clause in the agreement. It’s not just for them, it’s for their (unborn) children as well. For perhaps the first time in Glenn’s life, he feels overwhelmed by an inability to “get” a document. Is he going to agree to things he shouldn’t? Are there things that should be in the contract that aren’t?
Glenn’s friends have done some research online, and a few have spoken to an attorney, so they have some advice. But Glenn knows that the other Fellows really don’t know much more about physician employment agreements than he does. They are fine physicians, but physician employment agreement review and interpretation is not their forte, any more than it is for Glenn.
Glenn and Susie decide that a lawyer is needed. They quickly discover that finding lawyers who want to review the contract is easy. A simple Google search brings up thousands of lawyers who say they can do it. Glenn and Susie know that some lawyers are better at this than others, but there doesn’t seem to be any reliable way to separate the good ones from the bad ones. Their friends don’t really know how to separate the good from the bad, either. It turns out that finding a good lawyer to help them is itself a challenge – a challenge neither Glenn nor Susie have had to face before.
Glenn and Susie are almost sick. This huge decision, that will impact their lives forever, is going to come down to them having to trust a lawyer they don’t know to point out issues so they can make a good decision. The idea of trusting someone else is particularly hard on Glenn. He’s been trained to make life and death decisions in the blink of an eye, and now he needs to depend on someone he doesn’t even know to show him the critical aspects of this contract that will chart the course of his career. Glenn knows he is smart – but he feels downright stupid knowing that he isn’t equipped to review this contract. Sitting at the kitchen table, they try to analyze their options. But there seems to be no way out of having to trust somebody they don’t know to help them understand the contract.
Finally, they find a lawyer they are both comfortable with, and they have the contract reviewed. The contract isn’t perfect, but the lawyer points out the major issues and gives them some insights about how the compensation and benefits compare to benchmarks. Glenn now knows the good, the bad, and the ugly in the contract. He gets as many improvements to the contract as possible, and goes into the new position with his eyes wide open. Getting his contract right takes away a lot of the anxiety about the new position. Many details and stressors remain with moving, finishing up Fellowship, and finding Susie a new job, (and Glenn’s boards are still in the future). Still, after all these years, they are thrilled that they are going home, and Glenn is going to be practicing medicine the way he always dreamed he would.