How to negotiate time off

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance means allocating time for life—away from work.

By Megan Kimbal | Job Doctor | Winter 2018


Doctors and patients sit and talk. At the table near the window in the hospital. Doctors and patients sit and talk. At the table near the window in the hospital.

One of the more important things to consider when evaluating a potential job opportunity is the amount of paid time off you’ll receive.

Vacation time is usually forefront on most people’s minds, but it is also important to consider paid time off for continuing medical education (CME) courses and medical mission work. These items have a direct impact on your work-life balance.

Clarify “paid time off”

Does the language of your contract clearly define the amount and allocation of the paid time off you will receive?

Many physicians assume that the paid time off listed in the contract is a non-negotiable part of the benefits package, but that is not always the case. Aside from the amount of time offered, what is offered and/or how it is structured can vary by employer.

For example, you may notice that some employers offer both vacation and CME time off separately. Others combine them into one “paid time off” pool.

It does not matter exactly how it is structured, as long as you are aware whether or not CME time off is included. You can then attempt to negotiate for additional time if desired. Assign a priority to vacation time

Before going into a negotiation, it is crucial that you develop a strategy aimed at getting what you need above what you want. Rank your priorities in order of importance. This will serve as a visual reminder while you are in negotiations of where you should stay focused.

Once you see how your paid time off is allocated, you’ll have to determine if an opportunity’s vacation time fulfills what you need to maintain a healthy work-life balance. If not, what might you be willing to give up to get more? If vacation time is more important to you than a higher salary, for example, make sure you prioritize vacation time above salary during your negotiations.

Failure to prioritize weakens your position in the negotiation process, wastes valuable time, and may ultimately leave you with an unsatisfying contract. On average, most physician employees get three to four weeks of paid vacation time.

Address CME time

The cost and timing of CME courses should be discussed when negotiating your paid time off.

The CME credits required differ by state. Before you enter into negotiations, know how many hours you will be required to complete. More employers are now combining CME time, vacation time and sick leave into one “paid time off” bucket. Make sure you understand exactly how much of your paid time off is expected to be spent on CME.

Most employers will offer a week of paid CME time off with a stipend for expenses incurred in addition to paid vacation days.

Consider medical mission work

Your main focus as you negotiate your contract should be on your long-term personal goals and professional agenda.

If fulfilling a medical mission is a priority to you, then it is important to make sure your employer is aware of your goal. Medical missions can be short-term (1 to 2 weeks) or long-term (3 to 8 weeks). Before entering a contract negotiation, make sure you know what type of mission you are interested in, and how long you plan to be gone.

There are tax deductions available for medical missions, so this could be something for which your employer is willing to give you additional paid time off. If this is a priority, make sure you keep it high on your list—and ultimately be willing to give on something else you are not as passionate about.

Megan Kimbal is the director of client development at Premier Physician Agency, LLC, a national consulting firm specializing in physician job search and contracts.


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