Negotiating is an art form and skill—one that’s unfortunately not taught in medical school. But that doesn’t mean doctors are helplessly overmatched when it comes to negotiating.
“There are courses, books and seminars,” says Jeff Brown, M.D., a consultant for Stanford Business School and a lecturer and writer about the business of medicine. “I had none of this. I learned it through scars and experience. I eventually went back to business school and it was like the clouds parting.”
According to Brown and other expert negotiators, a few tips can help make a negotiation successful:
Do your homework
Know the local market and the market for your particular specialty. Some specialties are in greater demand and can command a better deal.
Don’t just look at salary
Successful employment is about liking your work environment and feeling like it has a future. Oftentimes, a high-salary job offer includes drawbacks that can seriously affect your quality of life.
Don’t be the first to bring up salary
If it’s not posted, then wait for them to address it.
Know your value
Many young doctors underestimate their market value and take the first offer that comes along or don’t push for benefits and clauses they really want. Get a good sense of what you want and know how much you’re really worth on the open market. Don’t drag the negotiation out. As tempting as it might be to go back and ask for more, you want to create positive vibes from the start. A protracted, difficult negotiation can harm a work relationship before it even starts.
Know what’s negotiable
For larger employers, some clauses may be non-negotiable, such as on-call hours. They do this to keep the employment atmosphere fair among employees. So if your potential employer clearly states that something is non-negotiable, don’t pursue it.
Hire help. Unless you have experience negotiating or are intimately familiar with the business side of medicine, consider investing in the services of an employment lawyer who specializes in physician contracts.
Trust your instincts
You’re not only negotiating a contract, you’re looking for a satisfying work environment that will help your career. If you get unpleasant vibes during the negotiation or have questions about the environment or employers, trust your gut. Small issues during a negotiation can turn into life-altering problems in an employment situation.