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Pre- and Postemployment Contract Review: Safeguard Your Interests

Publication
Article
Dermatology TimesDermatology Times, March 2024 (Vol. 45. No. 03)
Volume 45
Issue 03

By understanding employment contract essentials, dermatologists can ensure that their employment contract protects their interests and supports their career goals.

onephoto/AdobeStock

onephoto/AdobeStock

As dermatologists can certainly verify, the path to becoming a physician is long and arduous, filled with years of rigorous education, exams, and training. This dedication should also be applied to the nonclinical elements of one’s career—including taking seriously the employment contracts that a dermatologist may sign throughout their career.

Employment contracts are legally binding agreements between an employer and an employee that outline the terms and conditions of employment. It is essential, as a physician, to seek professional assistance to carefully review an employment contract before signing it because it can significantly impact your rights and obligations. In addition, you should review that contract periodically throughout your career at pivotal junctures.

This article will discuss the importance of reviewing an employment contract, essential contract clauses to review, reasons to review your contract periodically, and options for contract review. By understanding these key factors, you can ensure that your employment contract protects your interests and supports your career goals.

The Importance of Preemployment Contract Review

Employment contracts are typically drafted by employers and their attorneys with clauses that are favorable to them—sometimes in a very lopsided way that even the recruiting physician management team doesn’t intend. Experienced counsel can help you identify and negotiate terms that protect your rights and interests. A thorough contract review can help the physician and prospective employer identify and address any concerns or issues before signing.

A preemployment contract review is equally important for physicians who are new to the workforce and for those who are looking to change jobs or considering partnership in a medical practice.

Essential Contract Clauses

When considering an employment contract, physicians and their counsel must scrutinize crucial clauses that can profoundly impact their professional trajectory. One such clause is the noncompete agreement, which imposes limitations on a physician’s ability to practice medicine within a specific geographic region or time frame after departing from the employer’s practice. These constraints can dramatically confine a physician’s career options; therefore, they should be thoroughly examined with the goal of negotiating any vague or overly restrictive provisions.

Another section of the contract to carefully examine is the compensation and benefits package, which encompasses the physician’s salary structure and includes base pay, bonuses, and other forms of remuneration along with employer-provided benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off. Furthermore, dermatologists must pay close attention to the professional liability insurance provisions, which can shield them from allegations of negligence or malpractice.

Physicians should also note other pertinent aspects of the contract, including intellectual property ownership rights, termination procedures and dispute resolution mechanisms, staff allowances, and policies regarding external activities or investments.

Periodic Contract Review During Employment

Most dermatologists would likely acknowledge that it is essential to review a contract before signing it (although far too many do not), but many do not adequately understand the importance of periodically reviewing their employment contracts with their counsel throughout their career. A physician’s circumstances, such as their financial situation, family responsibilities, or career goals, may change over time. Reviewing the contract ensures that it still aligns with the doctor’s current needs and interests—especially if the dermatologist has an entrepreneurial venture in mind.

Additionally, the dermatology practice itself may undergo changes, such as a merger or acquisition, a leadership change, or a shift in strategic direction. Regular contract reviews help physicians stay informed about these changes and understand how the changes may impact their employment. Periodic contract reviews help keep the agreement fair and equitable for both the physician and the practice and provide an opportunity to renegotiate terms, address any concerns, and ensure that both parties are satisfied with the agreement.

Options for Contract Review

Throughout this article, we have used the term counsel to describe professionals who are qualified to provide advice on contracts and employment issues. Specifically, we suggest hiring an experienced health care contracts attorney to review any agreements, provide advice, and potentially even represent a dermatologist in a negotiation.

However, after speaking with nearly 100 physicians on this very subject, we learned that most of them did not hire an attorney before or after they signed a contract. Many were either silent (ie, did not negotiate or inquire about rights) or reviewed the contract themselves. Others may have “run it by” a more senior physician at their practice or fellowship prior to signing their first agreement. The reasons most physicians gave for not hiring an attorney were (1) the expense; (2) no time during business hours to make it happen; and (3) not sure whom to hire.

Another option for contract counsel that does not rise to the level of hiring an experienced attorney but may avoid these 3 barriers—and is certainly better than not inquiring at all or attempting to do it yourself—is to make use of artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, physicians can now utilize the same powerful AI tools that attorneys are using themselves to analyze and draft documents (see www.spellbook.legal as an example for lawyers). This is not surprising, as the latest versions of generative AI have literally scraped every contract on the public internet as well as every contract’s course, legal case, and treatise.

To be forthright, the author is a cofounder of The Doctors Agents (www.thedoctorsagents.com), a start-up that offers a range of services for physicians to improve their bottom line. The Doctors Agents is now in beta for DocContract AI, an AI-generated physician contract review. We hope that this technology will provide physicians who wish to forgo hiring an attorney with a powerful, inexpensive, on-demand option to not only understand what is in their proposed (or existing) agreements but also where they can suggest new contract language, what that language would be, and an approach to negotiate for a better deal.

Conclusion

Physicians can effectively protect their rights and interests by carefully reviewing their employment contracts—both before and during employment—and seeking professional guidance when necessary. This diligence ensures they enter into fair and advantageous employment relationships that align with their professional and financial aspirations.

David B. Mandell, JD, MBA, is an attorney and author of more than a dozen books for doctors, including Wealth Planning for the Modern Physician. He is a partner in the wealth management firm OJM Group, LLC (www.ojmgroup.com). He can be reached at 877-656-4362 or mandell@ojmgroup.com.

Disclosure

OJM Group, LLC (“OJM”) is a US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)–registered investment adviser with its principal place of practice in the state of Ohio. SEC registration does not constitute an endorsement of OJM by the SEC nor does it indicate that OJM has attained a particular level of skill or ability. OJM and its representatives are in compliance with the current notice filing and registration requirements imposed upon registered investment advisers by those states in which OJM maintains clients. OJM may only transact practice in those states in which it is registered or qualifies for an exemption or exclusion from registration requirements. For information pertaining to the registration status of OJM, please contact OJM or refer to the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website www.adviserinfo.sec.gov.

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This article contains general information that is not suitable for everyone. The information containedherein should not be construed as personalized legal or tax advice or as a recommendation of any particular security or strategy. There is no guarantee that the views and opinions expressed in this article will be appropriate for your particular circumstances. Tax law changes frequently; accordingly, information presented herein is subject to change without notice. You should seek professional tax and legal advice before implementing any strategy discussed herein.

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