5 Legal Mistakes Physicians Make With Their Contracts

After their residency, most doctors choose to work at an existing practice group, be it a hospital, clinic, or private practice. They will be given an employment contract which will outline the different obligations, responsibilities, and rights that they hold during their period of employment with that group. It will also mention what the employer is responsible for towards them.

It isn’t uncommon for new physicians to think that they can go over their contract by themselves. Though it is possible, it also often results in a shaky understanding of the legal document you are binding yourself to. You may need to negotiate terms or better understand what you are required to do. Let’s take a look at some legal mistakes new doctors make with their contracts.

Forgoing legal counsel

  • Doctors are incredibly intelligent people. They are no strangers to making major decisions, and often have to make them on their own. Therefore, it can be challenging for them to accept that they need help with a legally binding contract.
  • As a physician is an expert in their field, a lawyer is an expert in theirs too. They know how to navigate a contract and when it isn’t being as clear as you think it is. A lawyer wouldn’t be able to diagnose a patient as well as you could, right? In the same way, it’s better for you to leave the legal jargon to a lawyer and have them make sure you are fully aware of what you are signing up for.

It’s important for you to seek legal counsel while you are still in the process of job hunting so that when it comes time to negotiate and make a deal, you’ll already have someone to call.

Not doing their homework

  • After a physician has completed their residency, everything is moving fast – they are taking boards, looking for work, and making potentially life-changing decisions like where they want to settle and what they want to specialize in. There are a lot of things to do and often what is neglected is doing homework on your potential employer. They’re taking a close look at you – you should be doing your homework on them, too.
  • Ensure you understand the responsibilities asked of you in your new job. What will you have to do? Will you be on call? What is your salary based upon? How are patient cases assigned? Have a lot of doctors left? If so, why? Do your homework and make sure you know everything you can about the practice and about the job.

It isn’t just the stuff you can find out on their company website, either. Find out about what patients think, what past employees think, and what current employees think. Is the practice profitable and doing well?  Will it be around for awhile? Do physicians often leave? Do they operate ethically? These are all important things to consider as you are looking for a good practice that operates well, treats their employees well, and treats your patients well. You wouldn’t want to be bound to a place where you don’t agree with the policies or think you aren’t being treated fairly. To be safe, do your homework beforehand so you can be confident in your decision to work there.

Putting off legal counsel

  • You should be seeking legal counsel before you sign any legal document, be it some employment terms, a letter of intent, or anything else. Don’t let yourself be pressured into signing it without fully understanding what it means. If you are given a legal contract of any kind, be sure to ask for some time to deliberate so you can consult a legal expert. This allows you to fully understand the terms of the contract and what will be required of you. After that, you can proceed to sign the contract, reject it, or choose to negotiate, based on what you determine. After you’ve signed something, it could be too late. Look for a lawyer prior to negotiating an employment contract.

Trusting verbal promises

  • Oftentimes in the process of verbally negotiating the contract, things are said that are never put into words down on paper. Take, for instance, a circumstance in which you were told that you would only have to be on call for one weekend per month. On the contract, however, it is stated that you will be put on call rotation with the rest of the physicians. Perhaps you were told that your salary would be annually incremental, but the contract doesn’t mention anything about that. Verbal promises aren’t evidence. You will be held to the written promise that you signed. Therefore, if those things are important to you, you will have to ensure that it’s on the contract for it to be valid. Otherwise, it’s just empty words.

Neglecting to understand legal jargon

  • If you have to read a contract several times to really understand what it is saying, the language isn’t all that clear. It could be the contract being vague, or it could be that you aren’t well-versed enough in legal jargon to understand it. Even if you think you understand it, your employers could be seeing it differently. People interpret words differently. To understand it from a legal point of view, appoint a lawyer to assist you.

It isn’t uncommon for rookie doctors to run into problems regarding the contract, be it how long they are bound to it, how they can renew it, and whether or not they can terminate it. Without reading the contract carefully, you may find yourself in a position where you are bound to work at a certain place for several years without a raise, without certain benefits, or something of the sort. The contract is to protect employers, but it’s to protect you, too. You need to properly understand it and agree with it before you sign and become legally bound to it.

Conclusion

There are three basic rules that smart physicians should remember when signing their first employment contract. First off, do your research. Secondly, get some legal help with a medical contract lawyer like Romanowsky Law. Finally, ensure that you understand and can live with everything written down.