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November 22, 2022

Helping physicians understand their contracts

If you recruit physicians, you’ve likely met a type or two when it comes to employment agreements. On one end are candidates so detail-oriented that pouring over particulars is right up their ally. They love deciphering the legalese and nuanced jargon. On the other end are those who breeze through the document, confident - or just hopeful - that what they’ve heard appears on paper. Hopefully, most of the physicians you’ve encountered have enough contract basics in their job hunt quiver to avoid the type of missteps that can turn a favorable offer into an unfavorable career move.

For those not-so-savvy types, however, the annual Contracts & Compensation issue of PracticeLink Magazine offers help by highlighting snafus to avoid and strategic advice for avoiding them.

So, what should physicians, particularly those looking for their first position, understand and do as they navigate the path from discussion to sign-on? Sharing these tips can help your candidates.

Give it the attention it deserves

For starters, physicians should realize how important a contract is to their future. As Kathryn Hickner, JD, partner and health care attorney with Brennan Manna Diamond in Cleveland, says: "You really hope when you sign that employment agreement that you never need to look at it again, the situation is that harmonious. But your agreement is the most valuable when things go wrong - and that’s the way you should look at it. No agreement is going to protect you later from the stress associated with a bad fit."

To avoid that scenario, due diligence is paramount. And as candidates prepare to read through it, encourage them to establish their priorities first. What are their work musthaves and career or life goals? "You just need to figure out what’s the most important thing in your life and make the contract reflect it," says Roberta Gebhard, D.O., past president of the American Medical Women’s Association and Founder of its Gender Equity Task Force.

From there, it’s a matter of being realistic about the organization’s willingness (or unwillingness) to change the contract.

Work with a health care attorney

Although physicians need to be hands-on at every point, hiring a health care/employment attorney is a savvy must-do, experts will tell readers. A lawyer shouldn’t negotiate for a candidate - it can send a bad message to a recruiter like you. As Philip Eskew, D.O., JD, Mba, family medicine physician and founder of Direct Primary Care Frontier, notes: "It’s a better look and a better long-term relationship between a physician and a new employer if they’re the ones doing the negotiating."

Yet he or she can be a real asset by answering questions, providing perspective and catching those clause particulars and potential issues that a physician might misconstrue or miss. Most importantly, an attorney can make your job as a recruiter a little bit easier by letting a physician-client know what’s reasonable and what’s not, particularly when it involves his or her priorities.

Chris Hinz

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