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Painless contract negotiation possible, experts say
Negotiating for the right deal means understanding the compensation process, seeking out appropriate counsel
The outcome of a new associate's first contract negotiations can set thestage for a rewarding or disappointing career.
Practice and legal consultants offer advice to keep you in the firstcategory.
First, one legal advisor says when negotiating a contract, new graduatesneed to be comfortable with who they're going to be working with - primarilythe owner.
"It's difficult to determine whether you are comfortable or not,"says Edward J. Guidicci, Esq. of Guidicci & Guidicci, P.C. in Denver."But in my opinion, you have to go basically by gut instincts. Whenyou walk away from that meeting, you have to feel that this person is honestand is going to treat you fairly."
The second step for new graduates is to seek out a contract in writing.Giudicci says he suggests a formal agreement, because it protects the practiceas well as the doctor.
"What I tell associates is that if a practice refuses to put a contracttogether - and you really can't make them - the potential associate needsto write a letter to the practice owner confirming material terms - compensation,vacation, CE, stipends, benefits, term of contract," he says.
Without a written contract, the finer details of compensation, such asproduction-based percentages, may get lost in the hiring process.
"There are all sorts of ways people can fail to communicate exactlywhat they're agreeing on. What happens when there's a misunderstanding,two doctors start distrusting each other. That is a real problem in my book,"Giudicci says.
Dr. Thom Haig, a Gardnerville, Nev.-based consultant with VeterinaryPractice Consultants, recommends new graduates consult with professionaladvisors or attorneys so they are not misled in the process.
He adds, "The generic advice I'd give new associates is that theyought to have a contract and everything is negotiable."
When negotiating, Haig suggests seriously evaluating the practice andstaff to ensure it's the place the potential associate wants to be.
"I know it's really hard, especially in their senior year, but theyshould spend two to three days at least in that practice to know what they'regetting into," Haig says.
In determining how an associate will be compensated, recent graduatesare encouraged to determine whether they are willing to work on a pure percentagebasis or whether they prefer a base salary plus percentage.
"If they can start producing in a short period of time they willmake more money given a straight percentage than they would with a baseplus," Giudicci says. "Normally they can negotiate a higher percentage,but there's no guarantee and that's scary for new grads."
The drawback to percentage-based plans is that not all associates areprepared to produce at levels expected. Normally it can take anywhere fromsix to 12 months for associates to get up to speed.
"Frequently associates may take multiple years before they becomereally good producers," Guidicci says. "It could be dangerousto go into a straight percentage employment arrangement unless they're comfortablethat they can produce."
Adds Haig, if opting for production-based pay, make sure to request awritten statement defining production pay. How are work hours defined? Are(associates) expected to take emergency calls? Are they expected to workweekends and, if so, how much and how often? Do the same for benefits andpay.
Students weighted down with student loans may opt for the more securesalary-based approach. "Practice owners do recognize that the needfor many debt-ridden graduates to have a security blanket, which is a basesalary, is reasonable," Guidicci says.
Whichever compensation plan associates choose, Haig advises new graduatesnot to be hindered by financial details. "Don't let financial detailsscrew up a good deal if you really like the practice. On the other hand,don't go into a bad deal just because of good financial details."
At end of day
The bottom line, experts say, is that the soon-to-be associate can'tbe too well versed in compensation and negotiating issues. Some advisorsrecommend students attend sessions on associate compensation issues hostedat national conferences, while others recommend students participate inprograms at their respective veterinary schools.
Additionally, "recent grads need to become informed, generally speaking,about laws in states where they choose to practice on compensation typesof issues, so they can go into a situation understanding what their rightsand responsibilities are," Giudicci says.
For insight on actual experiences of young associates who have had goodand bad luck with their contract, as well as expert opinion on the prosand cons of contract negotiations, Haig refers new graduates to the VeterinaryInformation Network at www.vin.com.
Prior to signing on the dotted line, Haig encourages new graduates tomake sure the practice is a team fit.
"Do you really like the practice? Does the practice have the samegoals and philosophy that you do? If there's opportunity to talk to otherassociates or previous associates in practice, make sure what you're beingtold is, in fact, what actually happens," he urges.