Why your physician career needs more than a contract lawyer for maximum compensation

During my tenure as a practicing physician, I’ve grasped that each patient necessitates and is entitled to comprehensive and unique follow-up care. Fascinatingly, this rule also relates to us, the contracted physicians. I’ve realized that a physician’s employment contract isn’t static; it is subject to deliberate and incidental alterations.

The involvement of attorneys in contract negotiation is imperative, but their influence tends to recede after the contract is inked. Having personally journeyed through this intricate terrain, I aspire to share my experiences to guide you on your path. The perpetual negotiation of physician contracts has morphed into a specialized area with unique complexities. Even with the best intentions, only some contract attorneys possess the necessary tools, insights, or drive to secure the most beneficial contract, both in the near term and in the long term, for the physician. They excel within their legal boundaries, a viewpoint for which they cannot be blamed. This underscores the need for engaging a dedicated team for physician contracts. Contract review specialists can bridge the gap in physician contract negotiations.

Each physician’s journey is singular, filled with unique challenges and triumphs. Recognizing this uniqueness becomes vital when it comes to contract negotiations. Each employer’s situation is also unique. While many large physician employers will claim their physician employment contract is set in stone, that may not be true. Physician employers must be flexible in their negotiation terms because of their unique, specific situation, such as physicians leaving or physician demand. Lawyers will not be able to advise you on these finer points.

Ensuring fair physician compensation: the critical role of contract review specialists

The definition of a physician contract lawyer is simple. Physician contract lawyers help negotiate, draft, review, and manage physician contracts. Technically, they are hired for private legal proceedings (e.g., a physician contract) so that the business transaction (e.g., your employment) stays within the law.

Lawyers can provide guidance on contract creation, offer advice, and defend you if necessary. However, while they will research and analyze possible outcomes for you, their main focus is ensuring that the contract complies with legal requirements. Negotiating the financial aspects of the contract is typically the responsibility of the client. If necessary, they may need to seek advice from another professional such as those that review physician contracts daily. The prospective employer’s lawyers drafted what they believe is a legally sound contract, but remember that the lawyers merely followed their clients instructions on the details such as compensation. 

Do not accept at face value that a physician contract lawyer knows everything there is to know about your physician contract and situation. There will be details they will learn along with you, such as how bonuses are calculated. For example, in some instances, if certain benchmarks are not met, the bonus is deducted from the physician’s base salary at the end of a term. Technically, it is a withhold, not a bonus. They want to help you close the deal, but how the deal is negotiated or whether it is fair or reasonable is still your call, not theirs.

We use lawyers for contracts and other documents when purchasing real estate or entering an employment agreement. The lawyer has nothing to do with negotiating the terms, price, or anything else. The lawyer facilitates the process once both sides agree. The lawyer has no interest in whether the house sells for a lower or higher price. Similarly, the lawyer has no interest in whether the physician gets a high salary or negotiates better terms for fewer call responsibilities.

Why physicians need to take control of their contract negotiations

There is significant value in staying informed and engaged in your compensation planning over your medical career. In clinical practice, there is always a race to keep up with the latest methods in the changing practice of medicine. Industry trends and changes in physician contracts and compensation are no different. 

The difference for most physicians comes down to two main issues: time and access. Most, if not all, physicians just don’t have the time. They are so busy taking care of patients, dealing with outpatient “fires,” and struggling to be on time for those required meetings that there isn’t time left in the day. Sure, many physicians glance at some emails detailing physician data collection, but most don’t spend the necessary time for true analysis. Getting timely and relevant data can be challenging; many sources publish data from a year ago, which is already outdated.

Also, looking at just the data does not consider your particular story, situation, or circumstances. The Hippocratic Oath states in part, “I will not treat a fever chart.” In other words, you need to consider the totality of your situation before making a final decision on your career.

Picture this: you’re a physician living in the heart of Massachusetts, perhaps in Boston. Your apartment overlooks the bustling city, and you’re used to the rhythms of urban life. You take public transportation to work and enroll your children in nearby schools. Like any other big city, the cost of living in Boston is high. The prices at your local grocery store, property taxes, and even the cost of a simple cup of coffee add up. Yet, the income you receive is comparatively lower than that of your peers in other states due to the local pay scales.

Now, contrast this with a physician living in a spacious home in rural South Dakota, surrounded by miles of open space and peaceful countryside. They commute to work by car, and their children attend the local school. The cost of living here is significantly lower: grocery prices are reasonable, property taxes are minimal, no state income tax, and a cup of coffee doesn’t break the bank. However, the state’s pay scale makes their income much higher than yours, despite having similar job responsibilities.

Yet, when you look at the same generic compensation data, it’s skewed towards higher-paying states like South Dakota. That doesn’t accurately reflect your reality in Massachusetts. Such data fails to account for the drastically different living costs, local taxation, and lifestyle factors between the two states.

This is why it’s critical to have access to personalized, relevant, and up-to-date information that accurately reflects your circumstances when considering what may be considered fair compensation. Each physician’s unique situation necessitates personalized data and attention, which may be challenging to obtain without the right support.

There is a role for continuous learning and adaptation in managing and maximizing compensation. It has become an art, and just about every physician needs help. It is one of the most essential methods of proactively managing your current and future financial situations. As nice and reasonable as your employer seems, they still work in their best interests, not yours. The goal is not to become an adversary with your employer but instead a partner. 

Your story’s distinctive elements and personal circumstances should be the centerpiece of your compensation negotiation.

The indispensable role of physician compensation review experts

While a lawyer may assist you in ensuring your contract is legally sound, a physician compensation review expert focuses on the financial implications of your contract, ensuring that you are not just legally protected but also fairly compensated.

Imagine you’re a physician starting your career in a busy urban hospital. You’re offered a contract that, on the surface, seems competitive. However, a physician compensation review expert dives deeper. They examine the fine print, identifying pitfalls that could negatively affect your earnings. Perhaps the bonus structure isn’t as lucrative as it initially appears, or the contract stipulates an exceptionally high number of on-call hours, which could impact your work-life balance and overall job satisfaction.

A contract lawyer might not highlight these aspects, but a physician compensation review expert will. They don’t just read the contract; they analyze it against current market trends, dissecting each clause with your best interests in mind.

Take the term 1.0 FTE, for instance. A lawyer may not flag this as a potential issue, but a compensation review expert knows this term isn’t defined uniformly across contracts. It could mean a manageable 32-hour workweek at one hospital but a grueling 96-hour workweek at another. This is a crucial distinction in a profession where your time is money. A compensation review expert can help you navigate these nuances, advocating for you to ensure your contract is legal, fair, and beneficial.

Drew Sutton brings his extensive expertise to Contract Diagnostics as a guest writer and advisor. With a wealth of knowledge gained from his journey in the medical field, he comprehends the nuances of physician contracts and compensation. Dr. Sutton shares theoretical insights and practical lessons from his hands-on experience. Discover more of Dr. Sutton’s perspectives on physician compensation by exploring the Contract Diagnostics blog or connecting on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

The Contract Diagnostics team offers comprehensive consulting services tailored to physicians and their families, addressing employment contracts and compensation structures. Our expertise spans contract physician compensation, schedules, benefits, and more.

Our mission is to establish a central resource where physicians can access information, consulting, and coaching to navigate the intricacies of employment contracts and compensation structures, ensuring equitable remuneration.

Questions? Feel free to reach out to us via our website or at 888-574-5526.

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