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January 11, 2021

Protecting your free time

Human Hand Drawing Wellness Concept

The quality-of-life component for every job opportunity you consider is directly tied to your personal satisfaction away from work. But even if the location you are considering possesses all the amenities you and your family desire, what good is it if you don’t have the free time to enjoy them?

Though some elements of your demanding schedule simply come with the profession, there are some contractual items within your employment agreement that can help you preserve a healthy work/life balance.

Work schedule and hours

Does the language of your contract clearly define your work expectations, or does it include vague language surrounding the details of your schedule?

It isn’t reasonable in most practice settings to expect an employer to use language stating that you will work exactly X hours per week. There has to be some flexibility. However, it is reasonable to ask for a cap on your work hours - for example, "shall not exceed 60 hours per week." It is also important to take it one step further and define and understand whether this is in reference to scheduled office visits only, or if it also includes allocated time for charting, medical staff meetings, inpatient rounding and any other obligations.

Call schedule

There are many variables in play when it comes to the potential call schedule that a prospective employer cannot always control or predict.

But if you are joining a group of three other providers within your specialty and the contract language vaguely states that "call with be shared amongst all providers," do not automatically assume that this means the call schedule will be a guaranteed 1:4.

A key word missing from the aforementioned example is "equally." Otherwise, there is nothing protecting you from becoming suddenly responsible for more call than you were expecting. Asking for a cap on your call schedule is highly advisable.

Research/administrative time

If you are pursuing an opportunity at an academic medical center or affiliated practice and have a strong interest in doing research as part of your new position, look for language that allocates protected time on your schedule for this purpose.

You do not want to put yourself into a position where you are obligated to provide 40 to 50-plus hours per week on patient care and are then expected to fulfill your research obligations on your own time. The same can be said if you will be assuming a leadership role - such as chief medical officer, medical director or program director. Make sure you have ample time set side in your daily or weekly schedule to perform all necessary administrative tasks and attend all required meetings.

Paid time off

Many physicians assume that the allocated paid time off listed in the contract is a non-negotiable part of the benefits package, but that is not always the case. Aside from the actual amount of time offered, what is offered and/or how it is structured can differ by employer.

For example, you may notice that some employers will offer both vacation and continuing medical education (CME) time off separately, while others combine them into one "paid time off" pool. It does not matter exactly how it is structured, as long as you are aware whether or not CME time off is included. You can then attempt to negotiate for additional time if desired.

Clark Jones, JD, MBA is partner at Jones, Schneider and Stevens, LLC and General Counsel at Premier Physician Agency, LLC. Jeff Hinds, MHA is president at Premier Physician Agency, LLC, a national consulting firm specializing in physician job search and contracts.

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There are some contractual items within your employment agreement that can help you preserve a healthy work/life balance.

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