Although graduating from university can feel like a huge weight lifted off of your shoulders, the new stress of having to find a job and signing your first physiotherapy contract can be equally as stressful. Interviews and reviewing contracts can be daunting. It takes time to properly understand and parse through the complexities and nuances of private practice contracts.
The reality is that job hunting, interviews and technical contract jargon doesn’t have to be intimidating, nor does it have to be complicated. This article will shed light on the most important components of a private practice contract in physiotherapy. By the time you’re done this article, you’ll have a better understanding of what to expect and what to look for in a private practice contract. You’ll know what questions to ask, and how to properly analyze and compare and contrast different offers so you can make the decision that’s best for you! Here are 8 things you should know before signing your first physiotherapy contract in private practice:
1. Your Salary
This one may seem obvious but it’s crucial to include in this list. The beginning of the rest of your life starts when you graduate from university. You may have loans to pay. You may have plans to move out. You have plans to get married and have kids soon after. You may want to open a clinic after 3 or 4 years of practice. Whatever your 5-year plan, money will always be a necessity. I said it once, and I will say it again: SALARY MATTERS! You have to know what you’re worth. Don’t get short-changed.
When going over a contract, some employers will provide you with an estimate of your first year salary based on their statistics. This is great for having an overall idea of how much money you can expect in your first year, but it is highly dependent on how you are paid and can potentially be misleading. For instance, a company can choose to pay its employees on a percentage-based system, which means they receive a certain percentage of whatever the company is billed when treating a patient. The company can also choose to pay you using an hourly rate, which is typically based on where you are situated on the physiotherapy echelon (give or take an additional percentage). Some systems work better than others depending on caseload and the drive of the newly graduated physiotherapist. You need to determine which system best suits you and most importantly, which systems provides you with the best potential to succeed!
2. Guaranteed Hours
This is one question you absolutely must ask! Does the company offer any guaranteed hours? Guaranteed hours are hours that are paid regardless if you treat a patient or not. It takes time to build up to a full-time caseload, often longer than we’d like. Guaranteed hours are typically offered for the first few months of the first year (i.e. 4-6 months) as a physiotherapist so you can build your caseload without taking a huge hit to the bank. This is great for those that are tight financially after graduating and would prefer not having the stress of making less money initially.
How many weeks of vacation are you allowed initially? After how many years does the number of weeks of vacation increase? When can you take your vacations (i.e. whenever you want vs. accumulating your vacation days based on how many hours worked)? These are all important questions you have to ask!
I was the type of new grad to say, “I won’t need a vacation in my first year. I’m going to hustle and work as much as I can”. Do yourself a favor and take a vacation. Burnout in new grads is extremely common. Why? Most of the time, the only way to make more money is to see more patients. Take that week of vacation here and there to decompress, gather your thoughts and energy, so that when you return, you come back even better and stronger!
4. Health/Insurance Benefits
Many large companies will offer a group insurance plan. In my opinion, this is an important component to consider when signing a contract. Everyone has yearly expenses related to their health and if your company offers a group insurance plan, this is a huge plus, especially if you have a family! An important question to ask is how much of the insurance plan is covered by your employer. Some employers will cover a percentage of the insurance plan (i.e. they pay 50% and you pay the remaining 50%), whereas some employers will absorb the cost of the insurance plan completely. It differs from company to company.
Private physiotherapy clinics will usually provide mentoring hours for a first-year physiotherapist. Some clinics are more formal than others. Some clinics will provide mentoring hours on a need basis to the first-year physiotherapist, whereas other clinics will dedicate 30 minutes to 1 hour of mentoring per week to mentoring. This varies from clinic to clinic. Regardless, mentoring is important! It’s a great way to have a formal chat with an experienced physiotherapist. These times are great for discussing cases, brainstorming assessment and treatment options, as well as practicing manual techniques.
6. Continuing Education
Regardless of the number of years of experience that a physiotherapist has, they are always learning. It’s an ongoing process that is inherent in becoming a better person, physiotherapist and healthcare professional. This is our reality. The scientific literature is advancing at an exponential rate and we need to be up-to-date so that we can ensure that we are providing evidence-based practice as physiotherapists.
How much money a company will provide you with for your continuing education is hugely important! Continuing education is expensive and you need to feel like your employer is invested in your learning so that you can continue to become better and evolve. The average amount allotted is typically $1500. Anything more is a huge plus!
7. Internal Learning Opportunities
Does your company offer any in-services (i.e. one hour talks/discussions given at your clinic, typically weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, by an employee of the clinic on any topic of their choosing)? Do they offer any company courses/lectures given internally either by an employee or an externally-invited speaker? Are they free or do you have to pay for them? If you have to pay for them, are they discounted? Are you paid to attend these courses? These are all important questions to ask your employer.
Companies that are invested in the learning and growth of their employees will provide numerous internal learning opportunities, whether in the form of in-services, courses, symposiums or conferences. These are fantastic opportunities for networking, learning and discussion. In my opinion, this component is one you definitely have to consider. As a first-year physiotherapist, you’ll likely be hungry for more information, as I was and still am. With all of these educational opportunities at your disposal, you’ll be soaking up all of this new information like a sponge and develop your skill-set and clinical reasoning much faster!
8. Non-Competition Clause
A non-competition clause is a clause under which one party (usually an employee) agrees not to enter into or start a similar profession or trade in competition against another party (usually the employer). Essentially, employers want to make sure that you don’t work for a competitor and/or open your own clinic within a certain radius from their clinic.
To my knowledge, there is no maximum amount of kilometers that can be included within a non-competition clause. When it becomes problematic is when the radius of kilometers stated in the contract theoretically prevents you from making a living as a physiotherapist in the city where you live if ever you decide to leave. In my opinion, any non-competition clause imposing a radius of 10 kilometers (especially in a densely populated area) or more is a recipe for disaster. A company should be confident in its capacity to retain its employees. One thing you need to ask yourself is, “if this company is so confident about their employee retention, why are they so restrictive with their non-competition clause?” If you are being imposed a radius of 10 kilometers or more, explain why this concerns you, and don’t be afraid to negotiate the radius down before signing the contract.
Putting It All Together
Making your final decision can seem downright confusing. Simplify your life and make a spreadsheet with the pros and cons of each contract you have received. Think of your 5-year plan. Where do you want to be in 5 years? What do you need to get there? Which company will provide you with what you need to achieve your objective? Which company provides the best opportunity for growth? Lastly, if you are unhappy with a particularity in a contract, be prepared to negotiate. EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE. Don’t be tricked into thinking otherwise. Happy job hunting!
Anthony Teoli MScPT
Registered Physiotherapist & Founder of InfoPhysiotherapy