Evaluating The Best Practices As You Consider Hospital Employment. The Business of Medicine for Residents, Fellows and Nurse Practitioners.
With many of the issues created by the pandemic—the massive disruption to hospital operations, its impact on medical practices, and the unique alterations to the way patients receive treatment, and the shake up to resident and fellowship programs, among others—on the wane, the employment of physicians by hospitals is gearing back up. Given what we’ve witnessed over the last 16 months, making a decision about employment (hospital or private practice) requires a wider range of considerations and an expanded checklist as you vet opportunities.
I have written before about the need to take a long look at the proforma that has been prepared for your “new” practice, carefully studying the predictions of patient flows and testing these assumptions against how things fared for the last physician hired. This is now complicated by the impact of the pandemic. So a year’s worth of data might not provide the good information you are looking for, but the last four months of the last-hired’s numbers would be of value. If their practices are not growing you might want to ask why, and approach it from a different angle.
Look solely at the successful practices and the doctors part of them.
Ask your prospective employer who were the physicians whose practices seemed to suffer the least during the pandemic. If it’s a group, check out the top performers. If it’s with a hospital, ask who did the best system wide—go beyond the market you will be working within in a wider search for data.
Who had the best patient visit totals? Was it through telemedicine? What has happened in the last four months if so? Have visits started back up? What is the prediction on telemedicine visits—will they drop off completely or level out?
What about diagnostic equipment? Is there anything being used at successful practices that is not what you will have available? Why not? Has anyone done an ROI calculation to justify a purchase? Would it improve patient retention and development in your market area? What have those using it marketed the service or procedure?
Ask who has been able to retain staff and what the philosophy was in the decision. I’ve seen practices that cut valuable, ingrained staff, only to struggle trying to rebuild overall operations as patient volumes picked up. And I’ve seen groups who made a wise decision to invest in their staffs during the pandemic, taking pay cuts as opposed to losing valuable staff who had years of operational experience and great value; as things have ramped back up they’ve been the best position to grow and rebuild their practices.
(And while you’re on the subject of staff, find out how you can be involved in vetting any staff hired to work with you. Best to ask about staff recruitment since it appears the costs of mid-levels and office staffs have increase significantly in many larger markets, with signing bonuses and good benefits package now needed to recruit the best people.)
Don’t just find out who is the best in your specialty at the group practice or working within the hospital’s employed physicians. Demand an audience with these doctors, even if their market is miles away from yours. Visit the practice, spend a few hours shadowing, and take the time to talk with the mid-levels and, as important, the back office staff and practice manager. These people are the heart and soul of any practice, and how they’ve been engaged with the pandemic can provide a lot of lessons on what to do both the right and wrong ways.
Expand all aspects of how you consider the opportunities. It’s more confusing now, with many of the business aspects of medical practices still in flux or recovery. That requires more diligence, asking more questions, and talking with those who’ve been successful in weathering the pandemic and are rapidly growing their practices to prior volumes and levels of patient satisfaction.
My apologies for the delays in my blogging. Frankly, I’ve been busy responding to a wide range of physicians who are moving to private practice, a welcome phenomenon attributable in large part to the impact of COVID. I’ll tackle this subject in the next blog post. ---Tom Ellis III
Vetting Surgery Jobs In The Era of Pandemics. The Business of Medicine for Residents, Fellows and Nurse Practitioners.
In an earlier blog I looked at the changes in the delivery of surgery at hospitals and how this should be researched as part of vetting any potential job opportunity. From what virologists have been saying, these questions may be more important than ever.
We all know about the incredible disruption the COVID virus has caused to almost every aspect of healthcare, and how the pandemic has remodeled the delivery of healthcare through, among other things, the rapid development of telehealth. All of my primary care clients are fully engaged in the latter, and it’s showing up with others, including physical medicine and even oncology.
For many months in the Spring and Summer of 2020 the busines of surgery and the delivery of surgical care came to a crashing halt as hospitals dealt with the onslaught of virus patients. Hospital margins dried up as their primary source of revenue—elective surgery—stopped. The impact of this is well documented, as are the myriad ways hospitals are (still) dealing with the emergency.
Just how this was handled is of great importance, especially if you are looking to build a surgical practice at a hospital. Getting block time should no longer be your primary concern.
In your job interviews you need to research not only how your prospective hospital handled the crisis, but how they will deal with the next pandemic and what impact that will have on those hospital operations that will affect your new practice. How is the hospital going to continue scheduling electives? If hospital revenues are impacted—will surgery related jobs be in jeopardy? Is the anesthesia relationship stable? What about other departments like radiology and pathology? How has the hospital planned to continue and possibly expand the segregation of virus patients? What about the status of the ICU?
In short, what has hospital leadership done to minimize the impact of another virus on electives, which almost all virologists predict will be part of our future? In the history of COVID we witnessed the severe problems that arose without the necessary leadership (of the Federal government), and how the abandonment of issues related to preparedness (again by the Federal government) crippled the response. Is hospital leadership as ready as they can be? You should explore these questions with the head of surgery and hospital executives you meet as part of the interview process.
All issues critical to the success of your practice. But don’t stop there. How has your prospective employer addressed all of this and what is the plan? It has to go beyond just cutting everyone’s salary. What has the practice leadership done to prepare? Are they looking at alternatives, like investing in an ASC, or finding ways to move practice surgeries to surgery centers not at capacity? Are they truly committed to telehealth and tracking its efficacy? What about other revenue lines, like remote patient monitoring?
You want to find an employer that exhibits leadership in these areas; it’s as important as vetting the issues outlines in www.FirstMEDPractice.com. The employment decision is much too important to leave any stone unturned.
–Tom Ellis III
Six Questions You Must Ask In Your Zoom Interviews With Emloyers. The Business of Medicine for Residents, Fellows and Nurse Practitioners.
This year I witnessed something unique in all of my healthcare experience: The closure of medical practices. Not since the HMO days decades ago did I sense such widespread anxiety about the future of the medical business. And it was not just doctor’s practices that have suffered—hospitals and other health care providers like mental and rural health care clinics and urgent care centers suffered. I can never remember a time when hospitals quit doing elective surgeries, or when orthopedics, ENT, primary care, dermatology, opthalmology and nephrology were hurting all at the same time.
Listening to Doctor Radio on Sirius XM recently, I heard a brief conversation between the doctors bemoaning the fact that residents and fellows were having to enter the job market via Zoom, most unable to follow the more typical hiring processes of the visit, tour of facilities, interview with employer, a tour of available places to live, etc. As they noted, how could someone make the multi-year commitment a new job entails after a few Zoom meetings? Or how could employers make the same decisions?
If you google “zoom job interviews” you find most of the recommended sites list the same generic rules: Wear a coat/tie, understand how Zoom works, chose a neutral backdrop, etc. Nowhere did I find any rules about how to structure the interview or make it possible to get all of the information necessary to making a good decision. And in these changing times, there’s more need than ever to ask some hard questions about the impact of the virus and how it might affect your first few years in practice.
With little way to adequately prepare for the major changes in healthcare wrought by the virus one thing has happened: Weaknesses in practice models or necessary changes to them have brought about change in defining what makes a medical practice successful.
And if you are considering job offers and employment opportunities, there are a few questions you must ask and make part of the interview process since the change of addressing these topics at a visit or anecdotal conversation has become less possible.
My suggestion is that you submit, in writing, a group of questions that may have not been part of a typical interview before the virus. Here’s my short list of “must asks”:
And if you’ve already signed a letter of intent and have an employer selected, get these questions in front of them, now, to help you further assess the employment opportunity and what you’ve agreed to.
The impact of the virus has been multi-faceted but has shown one thing for sure: Medical practice success no longer conforms to the old ways. Make sure you explore this aspect of a potential employer’s business model before in order to make a fully informed, confident decision about where to start your medical practice career.—Tom Ellis III—December 2020
Nurse Practitioners, Telehealth, And The Future of The Nurse Practitioner Medical Practice. The Business of Medicine for Residents, Fellows and Nurse Practitioners.
I recently found an interesting study on habit formation. It suggested that a new habit can be developed in as little as 21 days. The average time for full development was 66 days.
After six months of lockdown all of us are forming new habits, getting used to new and changing lifestyles. In medicine the biggest change, now grown beyond a habit to a norm, has to be the emergence of telehealth.
Although CMS continues to tinker with telehealth rules--as late as last week releasing new guidelines that will expand telehealth rules--it’s here to stay. I don’t think anyone expects a return to pre-pandemic restrictions.
This presents a new opportunity for nurse practitioners, and I regularly field calls from them, queries framed around the question, “What do I need to do to start a telehealth practice?” Most callers understand the clinical piece but lack focus on the more important aspects of developing a successful business.
The thing I find lacking most is a clear focus on what the goals and objectives are. Specifically, what market are you going to serve? Leaving an active practice where you’ve had the time to develop a patient base is going to make it easier, but like all medical practices, how do you grow your business to fit your vision?
Market assessment is a critical part of this. What’s the target market? Adding telehealth to a brick and mortar practice as a way to treat your current patient base? Aligning with an overworked family practice physician to ease his load and increase his patient base? Working to develop a presence in the nursing home/assisted living market? Positioning yourself in the underserved rural markets, possibly in partnership with a healthcare system?
What is your market? How do you break in? Can you find both the financial and clinical rewards you’ve defined in your goals and objectives? How long will it take? What is the marketing effort and capital that needs to be executed to establish a presence? Is the return on the cost to do so make it all worthwhile?
In states where NPs must work with a collaborating physician there’s the big question of finding one. I always suggest a sophisticated presentation be developed for presentation to prospective physicians, one that outlines your work experience/history, levels of clinical activity, training, and a summation of your target market. When you are asking someone to work with you at this level, you need to show them that you are not “risky” and have a commensurate level of professionalism they will be comfortable with.
And you need to define just how they are going to get paid.
Find an EHR vendor who has had extensive experience in telehealth and telehealth billing. Understand the costs.
Social media is crucial. Familiarize yourself with DoctorLogic, PatientPOP and other platforms that understand how to integrate them into your business plan.
Starting a telehealth practice is no different than starting a medical practice in almost all ways. For a complete overview of “how to do it” I’d refer you to www.FirstMEDPractice.com, the platform developed specifically for providers entering the world of medical business.
Possibly the most important thing of all: Who will pay you, and how much. State’s oversee telehealth rules, and what’s required can vary from state to state. Compliance is the issue here. Insurers can also be fickle in this area, and issues related to credentialing with payers can be complex (and take months to achieve), especially if you anticipate providing telehealth to patients across state lines. Be sure to follow payment updates too; I expect insurers will be renegotiating telehealth rates after the pandemic.
---Tom Ellis III/September 2020
Three weeks ago the American Association of Medical Colleges very quietly released a document entitled “AAMC Guidance on Peaceful Protests by Medical Students and Residents.”
In response to the growing number of physician voices sounding the alarm about the on-going attack on science, the lack of political leadership during the on-going COVID-19 crisis, attempts to distort and/or hide critical metrics on the spread of the disease, Whitecoats for Black Lives, and other demonstrations by health care workers of all kinds, the AACM spoke.
Making it clear that medical students should feel free to lawfully and peacefully protest, and that they should engage their peers and academic directors in issues related to systemic racism, opening the conversation to find a new and better way to provide healthcare and not be concerned about the consequences of doing so. Medical schools should not see this kind of engagement as a stain on a student’s career, admission to medical school or residency/fellowship, and only asked that students wearing the “white coat” reflect and uphold the “virtues associated with medicine—humility, compassion, integrity, accountability, ethics and humanism” when engaging in protest.
To restate the famous Dylan phrase: The times they are a changin’……..
COVID has certainly thrown the future of how medicine is delivered up in the air, with it’s impact on the healthcare system and the vulnerable in our society creating new dialogue on how the delivery of medicine can be better, more equitable throughout all classes of our society, and more appropriately prepared for pandemics so as to avoid another tragedy like we are experiencing now.
But what’s most impressive to me is that the AAMC has now given it’s blessing to the engagement of residents and fellows, recommending they become part of the conversation, i.e,, part of the solution to these problems. Although their directive is couched in terms of conversation about these issues, it’s as close as anything I’ve seen suggesting the medical students of all types enter into a discourse that has become distinctly political over the past four months. Bravo to them, and to all of you who remain mindful of what is going on, alert to the issues that will face you when you leave academia and become responsible for patients and the society around you.
All of this has developed as the impact of COVID on the business of medicine has clearly started a new conversation about this as well. There have been developments that sound the bell of evolution to a lethargic medical system. Physicians, normally the quiet class of professionals, afraid to appear to be breaking laws against “unionization,” have been liberated to speak their mind as never before.
New ways of improving healthcare have grown from infancy to maturity in months in the area of telehealth, for example, where care has expanded to include mental health and allowed physicians to practice across state lines. Licensing has been streamlined to allow physicians to be “deployed” in areas that are underserved or need greater physician presence. CMS has moved to push outpatient procedures from hospitals to surgery centers. Direct primary care, a version of concierge medicine, is on the radar of managed care (although the concept needs development in addressing how it helps provide services to the poorer segments of society). And there are more on the way—it appears that the looming physician shortage, and how to provide service to all of our society, will finally be addressed through the shear impact of COVID, George Floyd, the attacks on science, and the new voice that wants a seat at the table—resident, fellows, and other healthcare providers who are the future care in this country.
Bob Dylan also said, “You need something to open up a new door, to show you something you’ve overlooked a hundred times or more.” The door has opened. Engage. Be part of the conversation.
---TOM ELLIS III. July 2020 www.FirstMEDPractice.com
Last month’s blog post (on www.ellisandassoc.com) talked about how the job interview experience would be different as a result of the changes many practices are witnessing as a result of Covid-19, and how a working knowledge of these changes would be so important to make a part of the job interview process. Failure to explore these changes and discuss them with prospective employers would be a major mistake in finding the best job opportunity.
As noted, the importance of social media in marketing a new practice, the rise of telemedicine, creating a secure environment for patient visits, and the possibility of new payment models will be very different in the new normal. The delivery of medicine will change.
But some things won’t change. There will still be a shortage of physicians, especially primary care. Hospitals will still be making efforts to steer surgeries their way, as surgical revenue becomes their mainstay. EHR platforms should still be scrutinized for their ways to reduce physician’s expense of non-compensated time (as opposed to increasing it!). Nurse practitioners will take a greater role in caring for rural populations. Psychiatrists will be in great demand as mental health issues expand in our society (even more-so as the “defund the police” efforts try to remove the police from handling these issues). Working to define a good work-life balance will be an on-going process for physicians and nurses of all kinds.
And, most importantly, the healthcare system will continue to need the input of all providers in preparation for pandemics, both national and local in nature.
What will not change is the ways in which you get paid. Or at least where the money comes from. Insurance companies will still be in control and will be working to find ways to incentivize value, minimize their risk on follow-up visits, create narrow networks of select providers and hospitals. Surgical procedures will continue down the path of “bundling” require all stakeholders to negotiate together—hospitals, surgeons, therapists, ASCs, and insurance companies—to create a fair and equitable pricing structure. Businesses will get more involved in the employee insurance cost issue and look to create their own self-funded insurance plans and negotiate directly with hospitals and physicians on pricing.
Add questions about reimbursements—where from, how much, how they might change—to any conversations you have with potential new employers, or, if you’re currently working for someone, get in the loop on potential changes in the revenue structure of your practice. Although patients still foot most of your bill, the way their money flows to you will come under constant tuning in the future, and it may be constant. Make sure you are part of that information flow!
—TOM ELLIS III. www.firstmedpractice.com
THE BUSINESS OF MEDICINE FOR RESIDENTS, FELLOWS AND NPs: Interview Preparation for the “New Normal.”
In a blog earlier this month I addressed the issue of pandemic regret, i.e., not taking the time to seriously reflect on your practice or career in medicine and to reimagine a new way of practicing in the era of COVID. But what does this mean for residents, fellows and NPs beginning to look at options for a medical career after graduation?
As I noted in that blog, much of the practice of medicine is not going to change. The payers—government and managed care—are not going away. Although there is still a move to bundled payments for surgeries and other treatments, fee-for-service and RVU forms of reimbursement will be the norm for procedures for most medical specialties. Quality will be reimbursed in the form of bonuses/rewards. Patient satisfaction will be of the utmost importance.
The evaluation of potential jobs and employers will require all of what is outlined in my platform, www.FirstMEDPractice.com. But there will be some new things to find out and analyze, especially if you are in primary care, IM or OB/Gyn. Here’s a short list.
Telemedicine: Although telemed has been a huge success during the last few months of COVID, total visits have started to level off as the extent of what can be done has come into focus. The last number I saw indicated it was leveling off at about 40% of the primary care group. But it’s here to stay and should be discussion topic and evaluated when looking at any job opportunity. How much of your proforma is based on telemed? What are the requirements in your daily workload? Afterhours? What are the reimbursements like among managed care payers?
How will telemed patients be followed up? Doctor visit? NP? Who will make sure medications are taken, review and evaluate tests, and get back to the patients with this information? How HIPPA compliant is the current telemed operation? And what do the state laws say about telemed and it’s future?
And the biggest question: What happens to my proforma projections if Medicare decides not to continue reimbursing for telemed at the end of the crisis that brought about their decision to do so? What will managed care payers do? Asking this question, and its answer, will give you a very good indication of the kind of financial planning and leadership a prospective employer has in place: Have they planned for a change?
Social Media: Is an absolutely must have. My clients are working with PatientPOP and DoctorLogic to help them integrate into Facebook, Instagram, etc. In fact, some are now working with branding agencies to help them establish their “brand” name even more quickly than the software platforms mentioned above. This has to be part of any employment relationship, no questions asked. If it’s not, be wary.
Patient Scheduling/Flow: By now you’ve heard about the various ways practices are dealing with patient visits as a result of COVID, restricting the use of waiting rooms, etc. Be sure you completely understand their new normal here. How will this impact your ability to maximize visits? Also, ask what will be done with the waiting room if it proves obsolete; unused rental space is expensive and you will be apportioned it as part of practice costs.
Capitation/Direct Primary Care: All traditional primary care practices have been hit hard by COVID. There is a recovery underway, and certainly a lot of pent-up patient demand, as well as great concern among the medical community that patients are foregoing necessary care now and will end up in emergency rooms or catch health issues before they become critical. There is talk among many experts that during this primary care crisis the government needs to step in and help primary care office stay open. Certainly, the US does not need to reduce the number of practicing primary care doctors.
Some have suggested that to solve this problem we need to return to capitation, a model where primary care doctors are paid a monthly fee for each of their patients whether they see them or not. This is similar in some ways to direct primary care, where physicians align them selves with insurers under a similar capitated model; they also can contract with patients directly (in some ways DPC is very similar to concierge medicine, but the physicians have an office). Both fit the private practice model, although both take time to mature because you have to access new patients.
I bring these up because if you are just starting out you will need some time to evolve your practice, and that will require your employer funding your practice for some time. Be sure to ask lots of questions about how your practice will grow and whether or not you will be responsible to repay any monies advanced for this purpose (i.e., they are a loan).
The healthcare business and market is undergoing changes almost weekly. I’ll continue to provide analysis as it pertains to future employment issues. Stay tuned.—TOM ELLIS III 5/24/20. www.FirstMEDPractice.com
Last week I listened to a podcast by Dallas-based corporate strategist Robin Pau. During the broadcast Robin coined a phrase new to me that applies across the board to many businesses: Pandemic Regret.
His podcast was built around three activities necessary to make sure that at the end of the virus onslaught you don’t suddenly realize you have not used some of the downtime impacting many medical businesses to plan for the future (i.e. suffer from pandemic regret).
Those activities are:
If you are a resident, fellow, or NP still in your training, don’t be confused with phrases like “medicine will never be the same.” Many aspects of the business of medicine and running a practice are not going to change much at all, at least not without a longer evolutionary timeline. Payers will remain present, and dealing with them will continue much as is. Programs to reward providers for excellent patient care will grow. Dealing with most of the important issues of running the business of a practice, as outlined in my FirstMEDPractice platform will still require that you understand how your practice is developed, managed and how those aspects will directly contribute to clinical and job satisfaction.
Don’t throw up your hands thinking the that medicine will never be the same. Most of it will be the same for doctors working to make a good living, run the business of their practice, and find fulfillment. If you are entering the time in your education when graduation is nearing, and recruiters are contacting you, it is still critically important to understand the business of medicine and how that knowledge will impact practice success.
Finally, one other thing. Be prepared to develop your own brand, regardless of whether you are in private practice of “corporate” medicine. Understand how social media works and make sure it’s a critical part of your first year in practice. Work with recognized firms in this area and look to them to provide you with examples of how successful practices are branding themselves as fits your specialty.
Don’t end up with pandemic regret. Use this time to wisely consider your future, either in your first job or in the continuation of your private practice. Take Robin Pau’s suggestion seriously. Reflect. Reimagine. Reset. Then reap the rewards.—Tom Ellis III. 5/1/20. WWW.FirstMEDPractice.com
Scary story: A few years ago I heard about a physician who wanted to open his own office. He had a great patient following, reputation, and didn’t have to deal with a non-compete with his current group, some of whom were retiring (they all practiced under a single Tax ID#). Anxious to set out on his own he found a great location, negotiated a three-year lease and started to hire staff for an opening 60 days out. The office space needed only minor repairs so there would be no delay in taking occupancy and adding all the furnishings and equipment he needed, which he purchased for delivery a week before opening.
For the next few weeks he was busy but was apparently on top of getting the office ready for launch. Staff was hired, software selected, furnishings and equipment purchased, and a marketing campaign underway.
But one month from that date he had a rude awakening:
He had forgotten about credentialing with the managed care payers.
Naïve to the ways of these payers, he mistakenly thought he could just call them up, deliver a new address and start to see their patients as of opening day. He had his new Tax ID# and everything necessary, or so he thought.
Here’s what he heard: 90 days to get on the plans. Maybe longer for some.
Translation: At least 60 days of overhead—rent, staff salaries, interest on any practice loans, marketing, etc.—and NO managed care patients. No charges could be filed with them. No A/R.
Yes, it all does revolve around credentialing when you are setting up a practice, either as a new employee, or as the owner of a private practice.
But it’s also a matter of who is going to provide the credentialing service.
My experience is that credentialing requires a lot more energy than just filling out and submitting the forms to payers. You need to have someone “bird-dog” it, literally from start to finish. Payers are busy, and usually are overwhelmed with credentialing applications, and you have to press them with friendly reminders. Respond immediately to their needs, especially when it comes to getting them all the paperwork they need. Make friendly calls to check in on progress. Ask for completion dates when you can start seeing patients. Be at their beck and call. It’s how you speed up the process.
And it’s best to have someone who knows the ropes. This isn’t a task for an office employee who’s never done it before. Seek out a company or person who has had multiple years of experience. If you have an IPA in your area, seriously consider joining and turning this over to them—credentialing is usually an IPA strength, and they will be able to give you an accurate reading on on-going progress and an effective date you can start billing for patient visits.
And then key everything around those end dates. You want your costs to dovetail with your first patient visits. Be sure to allow enough time for training and move-in, which should be two weeks from your opening day. Minimize non-revenue days.
With the sources at hand today there’s no reason for a repeat of the scary story above.—Tom Ellis, February 2020
Tom is the Founder of www.FirstMEDPractice.com, a platform for fellows, residents and nurse practitioners entering the job market that addresses key business of medicine issues related to vetting job offers and structuring a first practice.
THE BUSINESS OF MEDICINE FOR RESIDENTS AND FELLOWS: Salaries Offers, How They Are Derived, And How To Analyze These Sources
By Tom Ellis/FirstMEDPractice.com blog
In late 2019 Modern Healthcare published its annual Physician Compensation report, a comparison of average compensation ranges as reported by a variety of different groups for 23 select medical specialties. Included were Cardiology, Dermatology, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine and a host of specialties that see patients under a wide range of business models. The salary ranges presented were gleaned from ten different source--a mix of recruitment agencies and healthcare organizations that track this data for their memberships.
For residents and fellows these salary surveys are important, whether you are dealing with hospital attached employers or private group practices. Upon examination you’ll find there can be significant swings in the salaries reported for each given specialty. Analyzing pertinent results for your specialty and understanding the way the information presented has been gathered is important as you consider and counter salary offers as part of your negotiations.
Most employers utilize salary data like this as they compile offers, usually as a requirement of regulations and/or justification for salary offers. It’s important that you understand why there are significant swings in the salary amounts reported by the sources, how to read changes as reflected from the prior year, and how sample size impacts the value of reported data.
For example, let’s look at information reported for OB/Gyns. The top salary was reported by Sullivan Cotter, an organization, and reflects the salary within a group practice of $376,000. That reflected a 2.4% increase from the prior reporting year. Sullivan also reported a salary of $357,000 for private practice, a jump of .34%. The lowest salary was $297,000, reported by recruiting agency Pinnacle Health Group, a 7% increase for the prior year (no mention of whether this was group or private practice).
Let’s break that down. First, let’s look at the change from year to year. The 2.4% change reflected in the group practice salary is significantly more than the .34% change in private practice salaries; the latter might reflect stagnant growth in the private sector. However, the 7% increase reported by Pinnacle is a big jump but means that in the prior year the reported salary was $276,000, far less than what Sullivan-Cotter reported for group and private practice this year or the year prior.
And then there’s the total difference between Sullivan and Pinnacle—Sullivan is almost $80,000 higher than Pinnacle. That’s a difference of well over 20%. Which salary would you prefer?
And it’s also important to know the sample size of those contributing to each listing. You’ll usually find that organizations like Sullivan and the MGMA have a sample size that is significant (in fact, they can usually provide region specific data as well); they pride themselves on giving accurate “national” data. Conversely, the recruiting firms rely on a much smaller in sample size, and report primarily from the placement activity they have had. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes they have a number that’s higher.
Urology might point this out. Sullivan shows a salary of $497,000, a .72% change upward. But Pinnacle Health group, a recruiter, shows a salary of $210,000, a 51% drop from the prior year. Obviously, there is an issue with their sample size as compared to Sullivan. If your potential employer told you they relied on Pinnacle to set your salary as a urologist, you might want to take a few steps to examine other reporting data!
My read is that, in general, the organizations will report a larger sample size and that usually their data reflects higher salaries. But you have to look at all. Knowing the sample size, and especially where the majority of respondents are located geographically, is important to your analytics. You’ll probably find that certain areas of the US pay more or less, depending on the specialty.
You can also use this data as an example of salary potential. If you’re being offered a starting salary as a urologist of $350,000, current reporting numbers of a $497,000 average imply some significant upside when your practice matures (remember that the salary numbers shown are averages, not maximums).
Finally, if you’re trying to decide on what specialty to pursue, these income numbers may be of help.
There are other ways to slice and dice this information, but you must ask lots of questions about how salary offers are determined when looking at job offers.
Tom is the Founder of www.FirstMEDPractice.com, a platform for residents and fellows entering the job market, that addresses key business of medicine issues related to vetting job offers and structuring a first practice.
I welcome your comments and thought. Please send to me at firstname.lastname@example.org