The devil's in the (contract) details


Drs. Greenskin and Codger lock horns over salary vs. production-based compensation and the stickier elements of an employment contract.

(Illustration idea: Anne McDonald Campfield, DVM; illustrator: Ryan Ostrander)The dust has settled since “the Mrs. Pincer Incident,” and it's business as usual at the practice. Mrs. Pincer has asked not to be scheduled with Dr. Greenskin in the future, and all parties agree this is a good idea. Otherwise, Dr. Greenskin is settling nicely into her work routine and finding ample time during the week to pursue her hobbies and spend time with the people who are most important to her. She's also become more personable with clients, and those who are getting to know her have expressed their approval directly to Dr. Codger. This pleases the old-timer, since he's increasingly viewing Dr. Greenskin as a potential partner and considering asking about her interest in eventually buying him out.

A friendly debate ... 

Today the two doctors have cleared one appointment slot so they can sit down and finalize Dr. Greenskin's work contract. In true veterinarian style, Dr. Greenskin had started her first workday after little more than a handshake and a rough idea of what her compensation might be. But now she's planning a vacation, and she wants to work on her personal budget to manage her student loan payments and other obligations more efficiently.

Dr. Codger has his gameface on, and he's ready to squash any notion of Dr. Greenskin asking for more than what she's worth to the practice right now. Dr. Greenskin comes to the table hoping to negotiate a sufficient salary to survive her high debt burden for the time being, with perhaps enough left over to keep her Netflix subscription.

A friendly debate ensues regarding the ups and downs of salary vs. production-based compensation. Since starting her job, Dr. Greenskin has experienced a few of those not-so-busy days at the hospital. She's worried that if she commits to a purely production system, a quiet couple of weeks for the practice could cause her some serious financial dilemmas.

Coming to terms with the employment terms

Dr. Codger offers to Dr. Greenskin these terms:

> $60,000 yearly salary

> Two weeks of vacation

> $500 allowance for professional dues and CE

> The possibility of production bonus if the practice is busy.

Dr. Codger scribbles the terms on the back of an old medical chart he found, then slides it over to Dr. Greenskin for a quick signature so they can get on with their day.

As the young Dr. Greenskin tries to decipher the handwriting, her mind clouds with questions and apprehensions:

> Will she be paid during those two weeks of vacation days?

> Does two weeks mean 14 days, or does it mean two weeks' equivalent of working days? Come to think of it, they haven't even specified how many days a workweek actually entails.

> Only $500 for professional dues? Really?! That will barely cover her licensing and VMA dues, let alone any CE or travel.

> What does the “possibility of production bonus if the practice is busy” really mean? Dr. Greenskin is skeptical. She knows Dr. Codger does all of the bookkeeping himself, and she's seen him crunching numbers from three to four months ago. The accounting is questionable at best, and Dr. Greenskin wonders if and how he'll actually handle any production bonus.

Dr. Codger peers down at his associate, wondering why she's poking around about signing. As Dr. Greenskin smiles and begins to review some of her concerns, the flabbergasted receptionist bursts into the office.

“Mrs. Craycray is here with another one of her blocked cats! She said the cat hasn't moved in three days and I think he's dying!” the receptionist blurts.

Both veterinarians rush to the treatment area, leaving Mr. Biscuits the clinic cat purring happily on the desk, rolling around on the fateful work agreement. Who knows when the two veterinarians will get a chance to sit down again and finalize things …

Is Dr. Greenskin going to confront Dr. Codger with her concerns or will she just sign it and move along? How might Dr. Codger handle the young doctor's questions? Will they reach an agreement? We'll find out next time, in Old School, New School! 

Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in emergency and critical care private practice in Southern California. This series originally appeared in Pulse, the publication of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.

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