Aspiring associate doctors should have legal help when navigating the contract process.
Establish a window to opt out of the contract.
Spend as much time as you can in the practice.
Aspiring associate doctors fresh out of residency don’t know what they don’t know. The business landscape can be difficult to navigate, says Dough Graham, a senior management consultant at Doctors Management. It pays to study up.
Young physicians are stepping into a setting where they’re trying to understand complex legal language in associate doctor contracts, Graham says. To further complicate things, they’re typically doing this a year prior to completing residency. They need advice and guidance.
“They don’t get the right advice form the attendings that they are working with because they’ve been in academia,” Graham says. “If they are seriously considering going to work for somebody, and it’s going to be on a partnership track, they really should look for some type of adviser, whether it’s an attorney or some sort of consulting firm like ours — and none of them do that.”
Graham adds that this is a time-consuming process that should begin a year prior to the end of residency. Having a lawyer or consultant to guide young physicians through the process ensures that the hiring physician’s timeline is upheld.
Aspiring Partners and Owners
If the young physician’s goal is to ultimately become a partner or owner of the practice, it’s critical that they have a rough understanding of the practice’s value. Graham says that aspiring partners or owners should keep in mind that practice value is a moving target. “When a new doctor comes on, they’re helping to grow the business,” he says. While consultants can project growth and consequently practice values, young doctors should keep in mind that these are just estimates, not guarantees.
There are also no guarantees that a young physician will ultimately enjoy private practice. While it’s common for hiring doctors to include a contractual clause under which they can terminate the contract without cause with a specified amount of notice, associate doctors don’t always ask for the same.
“After a certain period of time, it’s really in the best interest of both parties to walk away without cause, provided that they give a certain amount of notice,” Graham says.
The best way to avoid this situation outright, Graham says, is for the associate doctor to do their due diligence. Spend two or three days in the practice seeing for yourself.
“Come shadow the provider and working the office for a few days. That way you can see the staff, see the general operations and try to understand the EHR technology they’re going to be using.”