Evading the physician hourly wage trap

Feb 18, 2019

Don’t trade your time for money

We tend to spend a lot of our professional lives trading time for money. We work for an hour to get paid for an hour’s work. We focus on ensuring that our physician hourly wage is competitive. And on rough days we make comments like, “At least I’ll get a paycheck at the end of the week.”

This mindset carries some risks:

  • Money becomes your main source of professional fulfillment
  • It limits your earning potential

This can be prevented by taking steps to avoid trading time for money in your job and any side gig that you participate in.

Make physician hourly wage a thing of the past

These six tips hold true whether you’re a full-time employee or self-employed, and whether you’re practicing clinical medicine or do nonclinical work.

Charge flat fees for consulting and contract work

I get this question frequently from doctors looking into side hustle work:

What’s a good rate for X?

There is no physician hourly wage that is fair and competitive across the board. There are so many factors involved, such as the type of work, what experience is required, whether a medical license is needed, and exactly what responsibilities you’ll have

Whenever possible, I recommend that physicians charge a flat fee for a project or set of services.  This is especially relevant to medical writing work, but can apply to various forms of consulting, chart review, and other nonclinical jobs.

Negotiating a flat fee has several benefits:

  • Assists you in considering the value you’re offering to the client,
  • Forces you to be able to justify that value to the client,
  • Prevents the client from wanting you to complete the work as quickly as possible,
  • Avoids having to log your hours, and
  • Makes work more bearable if a project takes longer than expected.

If the work you’re doing isn’t conducive to a project-based rate, consider alternatives such as combination rates or even performance-based rates.

Deepen and expand your expertise

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.

Benjamin Franklin makes a great point. Working to expand your knowledge-base within a topic or industry pays off in spades. By continuously broadening and deepening your understanding of the field while you work, you’ll organically become an expert or thought leader.

This assists in shifting your mindset toward working for value rather than salary. It prepares you for professional advancement and/or leading your own business. The more senior you are within an organization, the more likely you are to receive compensation that’s tied to profits or meeting goals.

Think of all income-generating activities as businesses

When you think about your job as “just a job” and the reward is solely a paycheck to take care of your family’s expenses, you lose out on a lot of the value that working in the field of medicine has to offer.

In any work that earns you money, do it as if you’re running and growing a real business. If you’re working as a consultant or doing freelance or gig work, you are running your own business.

For those in full-time positions, you’re working for someone else’s business. Despite this, though, you can avoid working just for physician hourly pay by thinking about what you and/or your team or division are doing to advance the organization, help meet its objectives, or make its patients healthier. Challenge yourself to do so in the most efficient, high-quality, and sustainable manner.

You’ll find yourself focusing on something other than your take-home pay. Your attitude and accomplishments will likely be noticed and rewarded by your employer.

Offer value rather than a concrete deliverable

Your job probably requires you to accomplish specific tasks and deliver the results of your work in the form of reports, completed projects, or patient treatment plans.

Rather than focusing solely on getting these tasks done, bear in mind the value they add to the organization. For example, the value of a report much more than the report itself. It contains findings or recommendations that can be implemented to save money, increase revenue, or improve patient outcomes.

I frequently take freelance medical writing assignments. All that is required at the end of the project is a manuscript or some other written document. But I do legwork up front to find out what the company is really trying to get out of it. I am more satisfied with the end result and more pleased with the relationship I have with clients.

Think long-term

In the midst of the daily grind, it’s so easy to just focus on getting our work done for the day so that we can go home and tackle a personal to-do list or other obligations. Letting this mindset take over day in and day out can be damaging.

By thinking about the long-term goals of your efforts, you’ll naturally start to consider and implement ways to avoid trading time for money. Your motivation will stem from a desire for outcomes and accomplishments, rather than simply completing tasks.

You’ll automate activities that can be automated. You’ll take the time to teach and mentor those who are junior to you, knowing that their work will be advantageous to you in the future. You’ll put in the effort to do things thoroughly and carefully the first time, knowing that you’re developing efficient processes and systems for similar tasks down the road.

Work for people who trust that you’ll get the job done

Finally, none of these tips are easy to accomplish if you have a boss who micromanages or has a “working for the weekend” mindset. If you’ve receive more feedback about punching your timecard than you have about the actual quality and influence of your work, you might consider making a job change.

Those working as consultants have the advantage of being able to choose clients. You can assist new clients in trusting you by:

  • Showing examples of your prior work
  • Explaining the process you use
  • Having a detailed timeline and sticking to it
  • Helping them envision what the result will look like

By limiting your attention on your physician hourly salary or rate and instead focusing on offering value, reaching goals, and deepening your impact, you’ll end up earning even more in the long run.

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