Doctor Career: Offer Letters vs Employment Contracts

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doctor-career

Dear Dr. Goodhook,

I have interviewed with several hospitals, but I haven’t made a decision where to practice yet. I think my decision would be easier if I knew more specifics about each potential job, including income, benefits and other agreements.

My plan is to request a contract from each potential employer, then compare them to see which one is the best. As long as I don’t sign a contract before I’m ready to commit, this shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Do you have any advice?

Sincerely,

Undecided in Utah

Dear Undecided,

It appears you’ve been woefully misinformed. Contracts are not wigs, and you cannot try them on until you discover the one that “fits.”

Apparently you’ve received multiple offers. Good for you! But unless you intend to smash your budding doctor career into the ground by way of your own boot, I suggest you to heed the following advice.

Contracts are Not for Collecting

In order to acquire contracts from multiple employers, you’d essentially have to lie. That’s because it isn’t customary for the issue of a contract to arise until you are completely prepared to accept an offer.

Once you receive an offer letter from an employer, you should never request a contract until you are certain you are ready to accept the job. Period.

Asking for a contract indicates that you are accepting a position, and the employer stops interviewing. Even though your John Hancock isn’t written on the dotted line, it is still a binding agreement.

Say you do try this tactic — you collect multiple contracts, and keep the employers waiting with your “review” so that you have time to compare them. Though favorable timing for such a scheme is quite unlikely, it is an incredibly unwise move. If one of the employers discovers you accept a position with another hospital, you will burn bridges for future opportunities.

Besides, you should be able to determine the majority of your work terms, benefits and compensation agreements from your offer letter. A contract is a much more formal agreement, chock full of legalese.

Now that you know your plan isn’t so wise, young physician, let us focus on a smarter approach.

Best doctor career advice: Know When to Negotiate

Order is important!

Negotiations in your contract should be made after you receive your offer letter, and before the contract agreement is sent. Keep in mind that you should never try to renegotiate all of the contract terms, lest you risk embarrassing yourself and postponing your doctor career.

For more tips on contract negotiation as you begin your doctor career, see my post Physician Compensation: The Fine Art of Negotiation.

Seek Legal Counsel

Say you have made negotiations and have a contract in your hand. If you are at all uncomfortable or uncertain, a contract review is in order.

Seek an attorney, but be selective in your search. At minimum, he or she should specialize in contract law. It is advisable to seek the counsel of one who specializes in physician contracts, however.

For more advice on how to select an attorney, visit Stage 8: Contract Negotiations in the Adventures in Medicine Resource Library.

-Dr. Goodhook

As part of your doctor career, what makes you most apprehensive about the contract negotiation process?  

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About

Dr. Goodhook was once a stubborn, talented young resident. After 50 years of practice, the old curmudgeon still has fire and irreverence in his veins. His wit and insight are legendary, as are his field notes, collected along the path of his life.

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