Professional Development

Top Ways an Associate Doctor Can Negotiate for a Better Job

By Jennifer Lyerly, OD

April 18, 2018

An exciting job opportunity is great news. It’s even better news if you can secure yourself a satisfying salary and benefits. Here’s how to first show the practice owner how you can help build their practice, and then how to leverage your contribution to get the kind of job you envision.

First, Show the Owner How You Can Help Build the Practice
Start your conversation with the practice owner by noting your areas of specialty, or areas you are interested in growing into a niche. For example, I have an interest in aesthetic optometry. If I were approaching a practice for a position, I might note the experience I have working in this area, the market growth this niche is experiencing, and a projection of how many more patients, and how much more revenue, I could bring into the practice by offering these services.

Similarly, I have thought carefully about, and refined my work with, Millennial patients in the exam room. I have experienced success building a Millennial patient base, and have insights into both exam room conversations with young patients, and the type of hand-off to the optical that is effective in capturing eyewear sales. This experience could be worth many thousands of dollars if I can show a proven track record boosting capture rate by working with optical teams.

If your area of interest is in working with pediatric patients, you could share with potential employers your plan to increase the number of children patients, along with your success doing this at another practice.

Click HERE, or the image above, to listen to a podcast featuring Dr. Lyerly and Mark Phebus, OD, who helps doctors review their contracts through his business,

Research Office & Position, Not “Going Rate”
The single most essential step you can take in starting a successful negotiation is to thoroughly research the practice and position. To effectively negotiate, you need to offer something of value in return for everything you are asking. You must learn what you have to offer that is of value to your prospective employer to be successful in your negotiation.

Study the practice web site. Read about the doctor/owner online using their LinkedIn pages, or even their Facebook, or Instagram, pages, as a clue. Go to their office and shop for glasses to see what the patient experience is like. Make sure during your interview that you ask questions and listen to what the owner, or hiring doctor, is telling you about what they want and what they need in the new associate doctor. Make sure you are interviewing the employer as much as they are interviewing you.

Anticipate employer question: “What can you offer my practice that I don’t already have?” Then nail it.

Ask These Key Questions
During the initial interview, start by asking the doctor questions about themselves: How has their career led them to this practice, what they love about optometry, what they like least about optometry right now (that will give you insight on what you might be able to take off their “to-do list” that would be of negotiating value), and what growth opportunities they are interested in achieving by adding another doctor.

Let the hiring doctor tell you what they are looking for, so you know what personality traits and skill-sets are most valued by them. Ask them about their patients: the average age, what their needs are. And ask what patients they’d like to bring into the office. This information will help you understand where you can be of most value in bringing in niche practice growth areas.

Ask for a Production Bonus
There are two aspects of pay that should be up for negotiation:

Base Salary: This is the guaranteed pay you will be making this year.

Production Bonus: This is the additional revenue you could make by growing the practice by a certain amount.

When negotiating, it often feels safest to ask for a higher base salary, but your employer is much more excited by production bonus opportunities. In that scenario, you both win, because you make money when you make money for the business. If you find it’s hard to negotiate for base salary, present the option of a production bonus to help you get to the number you feel is fair reimbursement for your value as an optometrist.

Remember, the pay that is originally offered in a contract is what they plan to pay an “average candidate.” If you want higher pay, be prepared to explain why you are above average. What services, or skills, can you provide above and beyond seeing day-to-day patients that makes you worth more than the average OD applicant?

Negotiate More than Just Salary
Don’t limit yourself to salary! Every item on the contract should be up for negotiation. This gives you opportunity to give on certain items that are less important to you, and stand strong on must-have options as the negotiation progresses. Some common items that you should expect to negotiate on include:

• Salary
• Production Bonus
• Paid Time Off
• Continuing Education (stipend and time for attendance)
• Licensing/AOA Membership/DEA number costs
• Malpractice insurance
• Non-compete clause (distance and length of time)

Ask for Trial Period Before Signing Contract
Many doctors prefer the security of a contract upfront, but a trial period can be a great option. Right out of school it can be difficult to know where, and how, you’ll be happiest practicing. A great way to figure that out is to work part time at 2-3 different clinics to get a feel for where you’ll be the best fit. You’d typically be paid more like an independent contractor in these “part-time” doctor roles, and added together over multiple clinics, you would be able to get a “full time” salary.

The downside of asking for a delay in the signing of a contract is that as a new graduate, the security of steady pay and healthcare benefits can be more appealing than piecing together part-time jobs. However, the long-term payoff of finding the best practice opportunity for you could be priceless.


Jennifer Lyerly, OD, is an associate at Triangle Visions Optometry in Cary, N.C. To contact her:

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