The job offers are coming in but now you're faced with another new challenge: negotiating your first salary. This can be strange territory for a new physician, especially one used to living on $40k/year during residency. However, if you want to be paid what your skills and education are worth, then negotiation is not optional.
Most people dislike the idea of doing any kind of negotiating, so you're not alone. However, once you understand how to negotiate effectively, you'll feel more comfortable with the process and will be more likely to be satisfied by the results.
Know What You Need and What You Can Get
Let's say you went out to purchase a car. You found one you loved but it cost $50,000 which is above your price range. What do you do? Well, you'll probably try to negotiate a better deal. Before you can do that, you have to know two things: what you need the price to be and how low you can get the price to go.
If you negotiate an offer of $45,000, but you can only afford to pay for a $40,000 car then your negotiation hasn't been very successful. You still end up on the losing end. If you try to get the price down to $20,000 when the lowest the car sells for anywhere in your area is $35,000, then you're not going to get very far in your negotiations.
The same is true when you are negotiating your salary. At this point, you probably have a place to live and an accumulation of bills, including student loan payments (student loan consolidation), credit card bills, etc. You need a salary that is going to cover those bills for the next several years and which will leave you enough money to be comfortable. That means you'll need to calculate your budget to determine the minimum you need to earn.
Additionally, employers are aware of how much other physicians with similar experience and education are being paid in your area (check out average physician salaries). They aren't going to pay you a great deal more than that average, so you should determine how much others are earning in your area.
Doing this planning and research before negotiating will give you an idea of the lowest and highest offers you can expect and accept.
Recognize What You Have to Offer
Before you can effectively negotiate your salary, you have to understand what you have to offer your new employer . . . and what you may not have.
Let's look at the bad side first. One of the things you don't have to offer is experience with the business of medicine. Depending on the type of practice you're looking at, that might hurt your negotiations. You also won't probably won't have any/many existing patients who will come with you.
On the other hand, you're coming to the new position with the latest training and with new ideas which can be a tremendous asset to medical organizations. You'll also probably have fewer responsibilities outside of your position which means you'll be able to work more without jeopardizing relationships with a spouse or children. Plus, you'll have more enthusiasm, dedication, and eagerness to learn than many of your co-workers because you're trying to establish your career and build it from here.
Additionally, you need to keep in mind that they have offered a job to you. That means they saw something in you, in your education, in your experience, or in your background they believed would be a valuable asset to their organization. That knowledge should give you some sense of power as you enter into negotiations, and you need that sense of power if you want to be a successful negotiator. If you think back to the car buying example, think about how much negotiating power you have if you already own two cars compared to if your only car was just totaled in an accident. The stronger your position the better your negotiations are going to go.
One final aspect to remember: a physician shortage looms, and it's becoming very difficult to find physicians. This is major leverage, especially in underserved areas.