Dear Panicked with a Pen,
The very first contract I ever received was quickly faxed to my brother, the lawyer. The first question he asked me was whether I had read it or not, to which I answered “of course not, I have a brother who’s an attorney.” Ultimately, he made me read it and while contracts are definitely in legalese, it is important to try your best to understand them. This is your future, after all, and you may be surprised by how much you do understand.
Know the basics
Contracts have several basic components: who is involved, what your responsibilities are (annual hours, committees, etc…), separation and termination agreements (how much notice you need to give prior to leaving and how much they need to give you if you are to be released), due process clauses (can you be fired and if so, what are your rights), malpractice coverage, and compensation (hourly, annually, benefits, etc…).
While uncommon, agreeing to a non-compete clause could make it illegal to practice in the town you live in if you were to leave that particular hospital.
Don’t like it? Rewrite it.
While there may be parts of the contract that you don’t like, remember that a contract is entered into jointly. While some paragraphs of contracts I’ve learned to live with, others I’ve rewritten. Don’t sign anything you do not fully understand and if you do not have an attending in your residency who helps residents with contracts, it may be worth the time and money to have a contracts lawyer review your contract.
Michael Silverman, MD, is the Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Harbor Hospital in Baltimore and is Co-Director, Johns Hopkins/TeamHealth Administrative Fellowship.