I am a third-year internal-medicine resident and currently looking for a nocturnist opportunity. I have no experience in negotiating a job or salary. When I interview for a job, should I negotiate for salary? How do I know that the salary is correct and what others in the same group are getting? Thanks for the help.
–Santhosh Mannem, New York City
Dr. Hospitalist responds:
Salary discussions are always intriguing, mainly because you won’t really know what everyone else is getting paid. There are several places to get some information. To begin, find out the general salary range for the market in which you want to work. Just because an annual salary might be $240,000 in Emporia, Kan., doesn’t mean a thing if you are looking for a job in Salt Lake City or Seattle. You can use the online resources through SHM (www.hospitalmedicine.org/survey) to paint a pretty good picture of salary by region, but remember that these are ranges only.
When I think of job offers, I like to take total compensation and break it down by category. For example, benefits are not negotiable—your employer cannot vary the health insurance coverage they provide by physician. Still, you need to consider benefits as an important part of the package. A good health insurance plan won’t mean as much to a single physician as it would to one with a family, so consider your individual needs. I strongly encourage you to make a line item for every potential benefit: health, dental, disability, life, continuing medical education (CME), professional dues, retirement plans (potentially with an employer match), malpractice insurance costs, and so on. A job with a “salary” of $300,000 but no benefits would pale in comparison to a job paying $250,000 with full benefits.
Don’t discount the value of benefits; get the numbers and assign a dollar amount. If the group is not being transparent on benefits, walk away.
With strict regard to salary, you probably will get little to no information as to what the rest of the group members are paid. Feel free to ask, but expect some vague answers. Most often, there is a fairly tight convergence of salaries within a given market, and it’s always better to interview for more than one job in the same location. You mentioned that you’d like to work as a nocturnist, which is good. These positions are recruited heavily and tend to command a higher initial salary.
Overall, your ability to negotiate a higher salary is going to be rather limited. However, there is another calculation worth mentioning: You need to find out how much you are being paid per unit of work so you can compare jobs. Here are some of the items to help you figure out a formula that works for you: annual salary, contracted shifts per year/month, pay per shift, admits/census per shift, number of weekends, and potential bonus thresholds. Use these numbers (metrics) to more accurately compare different jobs. There is no magic formula; it just depends on what is important to you, but you will get a much better picture if you combine these metrics with your benefit analysis.
As a nocturnist, I would not expect to hit any productivity metrics. If you are that busy, it’s probably a miserable job. In a business sense, nights almost always lose money.
One thing that can always be negotiated: a signing bonus and/or loan forgiveness. Often, a practice won’t want to continually offer higher starting salaries since eventually this causes wage creep across the practice. However, they can be much more flexible when it comes to “one-time” payments. This keeps the overall salary structure for the practice intact and is usually much more agreeable for your employer. As always, it’s a supply-and-demand issue, but if you are a nocturnist looking at a high-demand area, I would negotiate hard for a signing bonus and maybe even a contract-renewal bonus after your first year.
It never hurts to get creative, either. I remember negotiating my first job; I offered to sign a two-year contract (instead of one) if they would let me take off six months the first year. They said yes, I did some traveling that first year on my new salary, and I stayed with the practice for 11 years. Don’t get so caught up in salary numbers that you lose sight of what’s really important to you and whether the job would be the right fit.
Good luck and welcome to hospital medicine. You’ll love it.
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