Published in the October 2017 issue of Today’s Resident
WHEN IS IT OK to talk about money during a job search? While there are different schools of thought, many people agree that it’s OK to talk about money, but you need to do it carefully—and you don’t want to make it the first issue you raise.
Naveen Parti, MD, a neuroradiologist in Greenville, S.C., says that when he interviews physician candidates for his practice, he is upfront about compensation. But money isn’t usually the first thing he talks about.
“Some people don’t like talking about money,” Dr. Parti says, “but it’s a big part of the equation. It’s a difficult subject to broach, but it should eventually be discussed. It is a key part of how a candidate will evaluate our practice.”
“Money is a hard thing to tackle when you haven’t made a personal connection.”
Dr. Parti typically gets into the basics of compensation as early as the phone interview. “I don’t want to waste everyone’s time by flying you in for an interview if we’re $50,000 apart on what you think you’re going to make vs. what we’re going to pay,” he explains.
But he also points out that not all groups are transparent about compensation. “I have friends who will take a job without even knowing how much the partners make,” he says. “That lack of transparency would be a red flag for me.”
Jamie Thomas, executive vice president of recruiting for The Medicus Firm, a physician staffing company, tends to lean on the side of not talking about money during interviews— and he cringes when he hears a physician lead off asking about compensation. “When a doctor says, ‘How much are they paying?’ first and foremost, that’s a red flag for me as the recruiter, and it’s certainly a red flag for the hospital or group.”
Here’s Mr. Thomas’ advice: Before you ask about money, make sure you’ve established some rapport with someone at the practice first. “Money is a hard thing to tackle when you haven’t made a personal connection,” he explains.
And when you do raise the issue, show that you’re serious by asking detailed questions so you really understand the compensation package being offered.
“Often,” Mr. Thomas says, “there is an RVU component to the compensation models that hospitals are offering. If someone is very motivated by money because she has $300,000 in student loans, her goal is to be able to pay these loans off. That person needs to understand how to build up her patient volume quickly to maximize her earning potential.” In that situation, that candidate would want to ask about patient volumes and other market factors “that would affect her ability to earn.”
“You always talk about money, but the trick is in how you talk about money.”
Rick Novak, vice president of physician recruiting for the physician staffing firm Merritt Hawkins, says that the money talk shouldn’t necessarily wait until after the interview. “The idea that you never talk about money is malarkey,” he says. “You always talk about money, but the trick is in how you talk about money.”
According to Mr. Novak, physicians should talk about money because there are so many misconceptions about compensation. “Physicians immediately hear a number and try to compare it to something they’ve seen online,” he points out. “But they don’t necessarily know how to interpret that number.” Or they hear that one of their colleagues got a great deal in the same area, “but they don’t know the whole story because they haven’t seen the contract or visited the facility. So a conversation can be critical to clear up misconceptions about money.”
Some practices are better equipped to talk about money than others, Mr. Novak adds. One benefit of interviewing with smaller practices, which he defines as 10- to 15-doctor groups, is that these organizations typically have someone on staff who understands finances (often a chief financial officer) and will sit down with prospective recruits during the interview. “They’ll have a CFO or an accountant who is very well-versed in compensation and can walk physicians through the compensation model.”
But even in groups without an accountant to sit down and talk, Mr. Novak says, there should still be transparency when it comes to compensation plans. “If a practice is not willing to open the books and say ‘This is how we’re going to compensate you, this is what we’re all making as physicians and you’re going to make less because you’re just coming in,’ that’s a red flag.”
He points to another possible problem: “Groups may say, ” ‘Your base salary is X and we’re going to give you a production formula Y, and we’ll add these two together and you’ll have a potential income of Z.’ But ‘potential’ can be a scary word. Physicians might hear the number, but not the word potential or the base.” Because physicians are MDs, not JDs, Mr. Novak adds, “they don’t necessarily understand the formulas that are spelled out in the contract. That can cause heartburn and misunderstanding after the interview.”
Edward Doyle is Editor of Today’s Resident.