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From Our Print Archives

Contracts: Avoiding the Wrong Regrets

Vol. 4 • Issue 7 • Page 16

Career & Workforce

I think Arthur Miller may have been on to something when he remarked "Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets." I have certainly heard a lot of regrets when it comes to employment contracts, so to help you avoid experiencing wrong regrets, I have developed a list of issues to consider.

Time and Money

First, your contract should state the number of hours you are expected to work and what you will be paid. Many contracts are shockingly vague. It's not uncommon for a contract to state only whether you are to be classified as full time or part time.

Consider this scenario. You are hired to work in a clinic that is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A few months down the line, management announces a change - extended hours. Next thing you know you are expected to show up on Saturdays. Next comes the occasional holiday. In addition to your unexpected change in work hours, you also neglected to address in your contract how you might be paid for these unexpected shifts. Changing your schedule? Too bad that wasn't in your contract eh?

Where Did Everyone Go?

The one complaint I have heard most consistently from NPs and PAs is what I call "the missing doctor syndrome." The hiring physician gradually disappears until the NP or PA is suffocating with workload and has no backup.

The phone call to the recruiter (me) usually goes something like this: "But when I was hired the doctor PROMISED me ." Have you ever heard the saying "verbal contracts aren't worth the paper they are written on?"

You Want Me to Do What?

So technically your employer didn't make any changes to your job description (you will still be an NP or PA), but management did decide that you are now going see exclusively women or diabetes patients or how about all of the walk-in patients for the new urgent care service? Hospital rounds? Yes, you can start doing rounds every morning. That is, unless you are on call. Call? Yes, call. It's been decided you need to start taking call. Yes, yes, they know you are happy with things the way they were, but change is good. It's not like your current responsibilities were guaranteed in your contract, right?

If You Leave You Will Be Sorry!

Noncompete clauses or restrictive covenants can create a situation in which a clinician feels trapped. As an employee, you may have no choice but to enter into a noncompete arrangement. But that doesn't mean you have to agree to everything. The purpose of the noncompete clause to protect the employer - not to punish you for wanting a different job.

A noncompete agreement usually addresses three main points: professional activities, geographic area and the length of time the restriction is in force. When you look at each of those points, ask yourself if each one is reasonable.

I can tell you what I would consider unreasonable. First, the activities prohibited don't match the position. In other words, if you are doing family practice you shouldn't be restricted from seeking employment in dermatology or orthopedics. Second, the geographic area should apply to the location where you are working and not include all the employers' satellite clinics. Watch the distance restriction too. I have seen distances that are so great they effectively prohibit the clinician from working anywhere within an entire city. And third, the length of time the noncompete is in force should not be excessive. One year is reasonable - two years is pushing it. Noncompetes can wreak havoc on your career, so if anything seems unreasonable address it before you sign.

Sunrise, Sunset

Savvy NPs and PAs should request an expiration or sunset date in any contract. This requires that the contract be renewed on a periodic basis. This approach is nonconfrontational and allows each party a regular opportunity to revisit the terms of the contract and to renegotiate what is and what is not working. Think of it as a performance review for your employment contract. You won't regret it.

Renee Dahring is a family nurse practitioner who practices in correctional settings in Minnesota. She has experience as a recruiter and now conducts workshops on resume writing and interviewing ( Read more from Dahring in our Career Coach blog at


I thought a non compete clause was more for a MD. I am going over a contract for Hospitalist Physician Assistant position, and the contract mentions that the Practitioner agrees for a period of 1 year following the termination of the contract to not practice as a PA at the Hospital.

S W,  Physician AssistantSeptember 21, 2015
Nashville, TN

Would you consider a position without a contract, no offer of a retirement plan and moving out of state for the job that you would really like in your field of expertise? How do you obtain a market analysis of area salaries, and benefit packages, as I feel the offer is low for the experience I have, work hours and the job?

kris March 21, 2014


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