I recently recorded two videos about contracts and negotiation, both available to you for free. I like to joke that the only people who think contracts and negotiation are boring topics are the ones who don’t know much about them. Clearly, we all face making live-altering choices in our lives that require engaging in negotiation and understanding contracts.

This is a timely topic because many graduating residents and fellows are in the process of looking for work and, thus, need to consider their job offers and, ultimately, accepting one. I highly encourage you to view my videos on these topics – I’ll explain and provide you a link at the end.

One point I made in one of the videos was: If you’re shy about asking questions when considering job offers, reframe to yourself what you’re doing as giving the other side the opportunity to win you over. This is the point I wish to expand on here.

As I point out in the videos, you as the job seeker are at an informational disadvantage. The practice or institution you’re interviewing with knows so much more about the nature of their work, their work load, their call schedule now and in the future, the number and nature of their emergencies, the good and the bad of working there, the strengths and weaknesses of their infrastructure, the joy and the frustrations of working with their particular patient population, the job market for your specialty in that city, and the types of offers other practices are making to doctors. I could go on, but you get my point: they know much more pertinent information than you do. This leads to a uneven negotiating field. Simply, you are at an disadvantage.

The foundation of successful negotiation, thus, is decreasing this informational discrepancy. One source of data gathering is from the practice or institution whose job offer you’re mostly strongly considering. If you feel confident in asking a lot of questions, you probably are not at a loss for which questions you want more information about. The problem for many job seekers, though, is a certain reticence in asking the full range of necessary questions.

So, back to my point about reframing your data-gathering: Don’t think of yourself as being impolite, too forward, coming off as a prima donna, being “high maintenance,” appearing inappropriately aggressive, or anything similar that has negative connotations. Rather take the following approach with whomever you are talking to from that practice or institution: with a charming smile say something like,

“So far I really think highly of your clinic. I’ve met with some of the other doctors and staff, and had a chance to review your offer. Thank you for your welcoming attitude and your job offer. I appreciate your confidence in me. As you know I’m interviewing for some other open positions in town and I face an important career and life decision. Because I think highly of this practice, I’d really like the opportunity dig a little deeper. I want to ensure that we’re a good fit together. The best way to make sure this is a win-win is to make sure that both of us know what to expect. Are you ok with this? … Great! I hope you don’t mind, I’ve written up a list of questions I want to learn more about – I’m a little nervous at these job interviews and I wanted to make sure I didn’t inadvertently miss anything. Can we begin? Thanks.”

The background that makes this an effective approach is that there is a physician shortage. It is YOU who are the scarce commodity. YOU have many, many practices from which to choose. Most practices with openings are more or less desperate to fill their spots. Thus, since you have the relative power here – this is seller’s market and you are the seller of your services – you need to use your power wisely.

You truly will save yourself and the other party much heartache if you know exactly what you are signing up for. Ignorance and unclarified assumptions will lead to disappointment, frustration, and resentment. So step up and ask those darn questions!

If you have a particular question or aspect of this topic you’d like me to cover, just reach out to me. I’m not an attorney, of course, but I can perhaps point out the main issues at play. And, you should absolutely invest in having an attorney review any contract you’re considering signing. And the following point may be obvious but I find that often it is not: attorney specialize, just like physicians. You can’t just go to any old attorney to review your employment contract. Your state has a website run by your state bar association with a list of all their attorneys with their specialty areas listed. Choose an attorney qualified to review employment contracts and specifically employment contracts for physicians. Sure it will cost you a grand or two. To me it’s an unassailably good investment – an insurance policy – to avoid making painful mistakes.

Until next time,

Dr. Jack


Today’s Quotes

“We get wise by asking questions, and even if these are not answered, we get wise, for a well-packed question carries its answer on its back as a snail carries its shell.”
– James Stephens
“I grew a reputation for always asking questions and being nosy.”
– Tamron Hall
“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”
– Thomas Berger