Many new doctors are hesitant about negotiating physician employment contracts. Negotiating can be very intimidating, especially when there’s a huge opportunity on the table and you don’t want to blow your chances.

On the other hand, in order to be happy with a position, you need to be compensated in ways that you think are fair — this includes salary, benefits, time off, scheduling, etc.

Of course, there’s a balance between asking for what you want and knowing what’s reasonable to ask for.

As a kid, you knew that asking mom for one chocolate chip cookie after dinner would probably work in your favor. Asking her for six cookies before dinner would probably result in a firm “no” and an order to clean your room.

Physician employment contract negotiation is similar, but there’s a lot more on the line than chocolate. In most cases, you’re not going to get everything you want. However, it’s perfectly acceptable (and standard practice) to ask for contract adjustments within reasonable bounds.

In this post, we’ll go over five key tips that will help you confidently negotiate a physician employment contract.

1) Familiarize Yourself With Your Physician Employment Contract and Know Your Market

It’s absolutely imperative to gain a thorough understanding of a contract before you ask for changes. Asking for changes to things you don’t understand can lead to unnecessary confusion and miscommunication.

The best way to explore your contract is with a physician attorney, who can untangle legalese and spot clauses you might miss on your own.

In addition to learning the ins and outs of your existing contract, you should also understand your market. Physician salaries vary depending on location, population, specialty and other factors. Discover what positions similar to yours offer, and be sure to compare apples to apples (i.e., if you’re applying in Philadelphia, don’t compare your salary to similar positions in rural Georgia).

2) Minimize Negotiation Time

If you decide to negotiate a physician employment contract, it’s important to be mindful of time. Be responsive and prompt in your correspondence, and don’t keep the other party waiting too long.

A potential employer will devote both time and money to the negotiation process, so you don’t want to push their limits. If you wait or delay the process too long, they could very well decide to hire someone else.

If it helps, think of the process like buying a house. It’s a major decision, but you can’t dawdle.

3) Focus on What’s Important to You

Going back to the house hunting metaphor, you’re not always going to get everything you want. That’s why it’s important to make a list of “must-haves,” or things that you would absolutely require to begin working for a particular employer.

With a house, your wish list might include a big backyard, two bathrooms, a great neighborhood and high-end finishes. Ultimately, you might have to compromise on one of those wants, so it’s important to know which are most important to you.

Make your list. Do you need a specific salary? A bigger signing bonus? More time off? What are you wiling to compromise on, and what are your dealbreakers? Never proceed with negotiation unless you are prepared to accept the opportunity if the organization agrees to your terms.

4) When Negotiating a Physician Employment Contract, Be Confident, Not Arrogant

The way you handle yourself is a key part of the negotiation process. You shouldn’t go in acting timid and uncertain, but at the same time, you shouldn’t make demands like a king.

The key is to be confident, but never arrogant. It also helps to humanize your situation, which leads to the final tip…

5) Tell a Story

Telling a story can help you rationalize and strengthen your negotiation.

The point of telling a story is not to fabricate information or stand on a “poor pity me” pedestal. It’s to humanize your requests by stating the facts about your situation. This helps you make a case for yourself.

Example: “Although I have offers that are higher, this is the place that my family and I want to be. I’m trying to get comfortable with the terms so we can move forward. After finishing up residency and having debts of $200,000, along with buying our first home and not knowing how long it’s going to take to get up and running, I am looking for ‘X’ salary and ‘X’ benefits.”

Want to see the full example? Visit page 140 in the Adventures in Medicine Guidebook. You can also check out the Contract Negotiations Stage in the Adventures in Medicine Online Resource Library.

What concerns do you have about physician employment contract negotiation?     


Though the views expressed above are solely the writer’s, Bothwell Regional Health Center supports “The Dose with Dr. Goodhook” and is partnering with Adventures in Medicine to create an open, inspiring and insightful community for residents and physicians. Click here to learn more about ways that Bothwell Regional Health Center is making practice purposeful.