6 contract mistakes new physicians make

If you are a physician getting ready to sign your first contract, you might feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the number of different terms and conditions. Compensation, paid time off and malpractice insurance are some of the most common terms defined in your contract, but there are several more that are equally as important to your career success.

Feeling like you are in over your head is not uncommon, as your contract dictates most of your work life, and even some aspects outside of it. Here are some mistakes you should avoid to ensure your contract is fair:

1. Not Consulting with an Attorney
There are attorneys who specialize in physician contracts that will review every aspect of your contract. If you receive an employment contract, the first step you should take is contacting one of these attorneys.

Before doing so, make sure they provide a reputable service. You can check out online reviews, or even better, consult with colleagues or mentors. Tapping into your network of physician colleagues will be an invaluable resource throughout your career.

2. Skipping Negotiations
You have leverage. Do not negate it by just glossing over negotiations and accepting the job. As one of the most valuable assets a health system or hospital can acquire, you will be negotiating from a great position in most hiring situations, you just have to realize it.

Plus, if you have consulted with a physician contract attorney, they will be able to negotiate many of he terms on your behalf. If they are armed with compensation data and years of experience they should know what is a fair offer and what is not.

Regardless of whether it is you or an attorney, make sure your contract is negotiated.

3. Not Researching the Practice
Though you should always have a degree of leverage, your negotiation will largely hinge on factors such as your specialty, location, procedures and the population you serve. You should know how you fit into the bigger picture of the practice your joining well before signing anything.

For example, if you find out that you would be the only Orthopedic Surgeon within 100 miles that specializes in hand surgery, the demand for your services is probably high and the supply is low. You now have another point of negotiation.

4. Relying on Verbal Promises
“Always get it in writing.” Follow this mantra when it comes to your contract and you are bound to avoid disappointment.

It would be nice if the practices wanting to employ you could fulfill everything they promised. If it is written into your contract, they are legally bound to do so.

However, if they verbally make a promise about the position, they are not legally bound to fulfill that promise. Avoid being taken advantage of and have a physician contract attorney draft up the exact terms you want.

5. Not Reviewing the Termination Provision
There are generally two types of termination provisions in your employment contract: “for cause” and “without cause.” “For cause” provisions should be objective, and include loss of license, inability to obtain malpractice coverage, or loss of board certification.

“Without cause” provisions only require a notice period to terminate – no objective reason needs to be stated. The timing on these provisions is extremely important.

You certainly want to have an attorney look over your termination provisions because physicians have been fired unjustly, and sometimes within a few weeks of starting.

6. Overlooking Restrictive Covenants
Non-competes can keep you from practicing within a certain radius after your employment ends and be very impactful on your career. The key to a fair non-compete is a balance between protecting the business interest of your former employer and still allowing you to have ample practice opportunities.

If you do not carefully review your contract, you may end up unfairly restricted from practicing in a certain area and could miss out on your dream job.

restrictive covenant distances vary widely. It is possible to negotiate for a tighter radius, and it relies entirely on the willingness of both parties, so be ready to negotiate. Keep in mind that the more restrictive the non-compete, the less appealing you will be to future employers.

Key Takeaways
Seek the help of a physician contract attorney. Even if you feel confident in what you want out of your contract and your ability to negotiate, it is best to have an expert backing you up. Everything in your contract is negotiable to an extent, and if you want to make a change to the terms later, you can always have an attorney review your contract.

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