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The Art of Contract Negotiation

Negotiating contracts is something that applicants do in almost every known industry. As a physician, certain contractual terms are of utmost importance; especially as they have to do with starting salary and working hours. When entering the work field right out of residency, you might feel intimidated when it comes to negotiating these terms. However, with the right amount of research and assertiveness, you'd be surprised at just what you could negotiate.


Why Should You Negotiate?

After landing an interview with a prospective practice, you may be tempted to accept the first offer they put on the table. However, it's important to recognize that there is room to negotiate some of the terms in the contract. The American College of Physician Executives recommends thinking over the terms that are most important to you before going to the interview.

Based on the economy and location as well as your experience and specialty, what salary do feel would be acceptable? What insurance plan meets your needs? Is office space important to you? What about research time? All of these questions should be answered before going into your interview. This way, you would know which things are important enough to negotiate and which things are best left as offered.

What Should You Negotiate?

Not everything is negotiable, and some physicians avoid negotiating at all. This is usually due to residents being happy just to get their first job. This causes them to accept the first offer given without knowing that they could negotiate the contract's terms. Discuss negotiations with associates within the group to find out exactly what can be negotiated. In some instances, salary and insurance can be negotiated; however, in an academic setting this may not be possible. 

Things that are usually negotiated in a contract are:

  • Office space
  • Hours/schedule
  • Insurance benefits
  • Research time
  • Salary

The number one thing that most physicians negotiate is their salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median pay for a physician is $100.00 per hour. However, depending on the specialty and location, this pay may be higher or lower than stated, leaving room for negotiation.

How to Negotiate

Before negotiating the terms with a prospective employer, the Physician's Practice recommends soliciting a lawyer that specializes in physician contracts. Although this may cost a bit, it is worth the money to get sound advice on what can be legally negotiated. The lawyer will advise you on what type of language to use in the negotiation to avoid making catastrophic mistakes.

Be assertive. Most human resources managers are looking for physicians that are not only skilled, but those that display compassion and excitement about their future career. When negotiating your contract, don't let intimidation get the best of you. Remain assertive and stick to your grounds.

What to do After Reaching an Agreement

The most important thing to do after reaching an agreement is to get it in writing. Anything in your contract is legally binding; however, a verbal agreement doesn't always stick. So, to save any confusion in the future, get all negotiations put in writing or added to the contract. Most physicians negotiate salary, insurance coverage, or working hours, so these changes are especially important to have in writing. If during an interview, the employer suggests putting it in writing later or discussing these terms after you start working, these are red flag statements that should not be overlooked. Reiterate the importance and legality of having it in writing before starting work under the present contract.

Negotiating your first contract is no doubt nerve wracking and intimidating. You may even second guess trying it at all, but after seeking legal advice and consulting group members, you'll feel much better about it. Just remember you deserve the best terms and negotiating them is just part of the plan for moving forward.

Article Originally Published on ACOG Career Connection