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Roadmap for Residents: What to Ask Before Signing an Academia Contract

As your virtual mentor, Next Steps in Derm is committed to supporting your jump from residency to the world of practicing dermatologists. If you’re a graduating resident thinking about going into academia, you need support in feeling prepared to negotiate your first contract. Questions are key.

Read part one of this two part series by Dr. Kirkorian of George Washington University and become primed for what to ask as you navigate your first job in academia.

Part 1 of 2

So you’ve decided to start your career in academia? As a young attending nearly two years into my first academic job, I can confidently say that a career in academics is stimulating, exciting, and fun. I felt unprepared for negotiating a job and then navigating the world of fiscal and academic productivity. A friend in academia once said: “Time, money, space—pick one and negotiate for it.”

Ask plenty of questions about what you can expect in the position. Be certain that you find the job that fulfills your needs and doesn’t make you one of the 28% of physicians who leave their first job after two years.

Questions to ask before signing a contract that will help guide your negotiations:

Practical Matters:

  • What items will be reimbursed? (e.g. moving costs, licensure, professional association fees, etc.)
  • Where will your office be located? Will it be a shared office?
  • How many days and how much funding are available for CME?
  • What is the maternity/paternity leave policy (paid parental leave vs. FMLA)?

Salary Negotiation:

  • Salary structure: Do you get a base salary + bonus? Are these based on RVUs? Are other measures taken into account in calculating the bonus besides RVUs (e.g. teaching, research)? Do you get RVUs for supervising a PA or NP?
  • How are RVU targets set? Are the targets set appropriately for what you will be doing? (e.g. pediatric and adult medical dermatology will generate lower RVUs than Mohs surgery or cosmetics)

Details of Clinical Duties:

  • How many clinics will you work?
  • Are you expected to work at a satellite office?
  • Will you have residents in your clinics? All/some/none?
  • What support staff will you have? Do you share an administrator? Do you have a dedicated MA?
  • Who returns patient calls? Staff? MD? Residents?
  • How much call do you take? How are holidays and conference coverage allocated?

Academic Duties and Promotion:

  • What promotion tract will you be on? (e.g. will you start as an instructor, clinical assistant professor or assistant professor)
  • What mechanisms are in place for mentorship at your academic center?
  • Do you have a mentor at your institution?
  • If you plan on a specific type of research (bench, clinical trials, etc.) is there a track record for such research at your institution or will you be building it yourself? Will your chair support the time and money this will require?
  • Ask questions prior to signing the dotted line, you’ll be able to make an educated decision that you can feel good about.