Negotiating Your Employment Contract – You Got This!


Leigh Ann O’Neill

Have you ever found out a colleague was making more money than you – for no good reason? Or been stymied by an onerous restrictive covenant? Have you missed new job opportunities because of a 6 months’ notice requirement? All of these things can happen from not negotiating your employment contract.

And let’s face it. As physicians, many of us HATE negotiating. We don’t want to look greedy or beg. We avoid conflict and would rather just sign the darn thing and get it over with. Done.

In this blog, my aim is to empower you to feel more comfortable about negotiating your employment contract and offer you some advice from an expert.

Below is my interview with attorney Ms. Leigh Ann O’Neill, who specializes in assisting physicians with their job searches, employment contracts and licensing. Being married to a physician, and having worked extensively in healthcare, Ms. O’Neill is passionate about representing the interests of her physician clients. One of my clients who used Ms. O’Neill’s services highly recommended her to me. I do not personally have any type of affiliation with Ms. O’Neill but am happy to share her advice with you!

Q: When is it appropriate to negotiate a contract?

Ms. O’Neill: The short answer is – always! Employment contracts are inherently biased in favor of the employer. By not negotiating, you could be leaving significant money on the table and compromising your future with onerous terms. If you don’t ask, you will never know what is possible.

Q: Are there any times when it is not appropriate to negotiate?

Ms. O’Neill: If you have an offer letter which details specific, mutually agreed upon terms before a contract if offered, then it may be perceived as deceptive to try and change these terms. However, keep in mind that the inappropriateness here only arises from the fact that negotiations already took place and agreements were already made.

Q: What kind of approach to negotiations has the best chance of success?

Ms. O’Neill: The adage about catching more flies with honey rings true in many cases. When working on a client’s behalf to negotiate, we always do so in as amicable a fashion as possible. Knowing the importance and sometimes fragility of the employment relationship is key to approaching it reasonably and rationally. With that said, however, it is equally important to know your worth, market norms, and be clear on what you need and want in an employment setting.

Q: What should doctors pay more attention to in employment contracts?

Ms. O’Neill: Due to their long-term and serious implications, non-compete covenants are probably the most important (and potentially scary) aspects of an employment contract. Non-compete covenants literally have the power to dictate whether you are able to work and earn a living without relocating.

An aspect of employment contracts often overlooked relates to your schedule and practice location(s). Don’t assume that these things will stay the same. If an employer opens a new clinic location or asks you to round at additional hospitals, this could adversely affect your job satisfaction.

Q: Any specific advice on restrictive covenants?

Ms. O’Neill: Restrictive covenants or “non-competes” are governed by state law and there are rarely hard fast rules about them. In other words, many states rely on case law to determine if a case is valid or invalid. If you decide to challenge a restrictive covenant, there is rarely any sure way to know if you will be successful. Even if physicians in the past have gotten out of their non-competes, the court could decide differently in your case.

Q: Do you recommend physicians use an attorney to review their contract?

Ms. O’Neill: It’s advisable to have an attorney to review the contract if you have any questions about the content and do not feel comfortable negotiating on your own. If an employer suggests consulting an attorney is somehow wrong, or implies that they need the contract executed immediately consider this a major red flag. If an employer is pressuring you to sign without consulting your attorney, you may want to rethink going to work for them.

Q: Do you recommend that the attorney negotiate the contract for the physician, or should the physician speak with the employer directly?

Ms. O’Neill: This comes down to personal preference. We often negotiate with employers on our clients’ behalves, but there are many times where the physician does so directly. Often, physicians feel uncomfortable asking for more money, and they may also feel uncomfortable asking for changes to legal provisions that they don’t entirely understand. We often coach our clients on what to say and do, and then they are comfortable speaking directly to the employer. We can also help with crafting emails to send.

Q: What services do you offer and how can physicians contact you?

Ms. O’Neill: In addition to our contract review, we also provide a concierge-style job search service for physicians seeking clinical careers. We also offer a stream-lined state licensing service that makes that process as painless as possible for our physician clients. I can be reached in three different ways:, (317) 989-4833, and at Lauth O’Neill Physician AgencyI’m more than happy to speak with any physician to see how I can be of service.

Before wrapping up this blog, I wanted to extend a warm thank-you to Leigh Ann O’Neill for her helpful interview and share a few thoughts.

Leigh Ann made a great point when she said how important it is to know your value and your needs and wants in a job. You will be a stronger negotiator when you have this clarity and when you also take the time to find out the needs, wants, and values of the other side. In his book, Getting More, Stuart Diamond describes this approach as, “being able to see the pictures in the other person’s head.” It’s a great technique that anyone can learn. I used it a week ago and with one phone call and an email, was able to save myself $5,000!

If you missed the other two blogs in this three-part series, you can read them here:

Do I need a CV or a resume for a nonclinical job? 

How prepared are you for a nonclinical job interview?

Please feel free to comment below and let me know about your negotiation successes and challenges!

In my next post on March 13th, I’m going to pull back the curtain on some of my own career challenges and take you behind the scenes of The Doctor’s Crossing.

Stay tuned!



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"Heather’s approach was great! She would listen to me and helped me appreciate who I am."

I remember when she said ‘do your resume before our next meeting’, I was about to push back but she gently nudged me along and I’m glad I did exactly what she wanted me to do. We also did interview prep via Zoom and I was offered a great job in UM. She has continued to follow up even after I was offered this job, helping me with pointers about negotiating. I will totally recommend the Doctors Crossing and Heather to anyone feeling stuck like me and looking for a great coach! Thank you Heather!

- Modupe Oladeinde, MD

Family Medicine
Tim O

The coaching I have had with you has been life changing."

You helped me find the courage to seek out leadership positions and become a medical director as well as a physician advisor. I am grateful we crossed paths and am a different person because of it. You have inspired me to "believe" in spite of my inner skeptic. I consider you one of my most important mentors and am proud to also call you a friend. This says a lot given the apprehension I felt when I took a chance with our first coaching session. Even though I have already made a successful transition, I still value your ongoing mentorship and can enthusiastically attest that the value of your services is tremendous!

- Tim Owolabi, MD

Family Medicine
Lynette Charity

“I was at a crossroads in my medical career. I asked myself, "Do I stay or do I go?" 

I met Heather at the SEAK conference. She and I revisited this question.  Did I want to quit being medicine completely? She helped me to identify my needs, wants, and my vision for my FUTURE, not just in medicine, but in life!!!

She was able to listen to my "ramblings" about becoming a stand-up comic, lounge singer and voice-over actor and translate them into action steps.  I chose to become a composite of all of these. Now I am a more confident, healthier, happier person. I credit this in its entirety to the tutelage I have received and continue to receive from Heather.  She cares. She listens. She was there for ME.  She will be there for YOU!

- Lynette Charity, MD

Gail Miller

“I am forever grateful to Heather for helping me to recognize, I am more than just my M.D." 

Heather helped me understand that I am more than just a doctor and that my experiences in clinical medicine are valuable in so many arenas.  As a result I realized that there are other ways to use my background, still be able to help people and continue to challenge myself and grow.  To that end I discovered coaching - specifically health coaching.  I am on my journey becoming a health coach and truly loving it!

- Gail Miller, MD

OB/Gyn physician

“Thank you, Heather, for helping me transform my career, my faith and my life."

What started out as an initial thirty-minute consultation call turned into an amazing four-year journey that transformed my life, personally, spiritually and professionally. 

Heather helped me to discover my doing so, I discovered I still had a calling for medicine but it now came from a place of truth... wife and I are opening our first concierge medicine clinic in a community we love. I’m actually excited to have the opportunity to practice medicine the way I believe it’s meant to be, with a focus on the doctor-patient relationship and an emphasis on faith. I know if I had not reached out to Dr. Fork, my life would not be where it is at today.

- Steve Lapke, MD

Papillion, NE
Sue Zimmermann

“Heather gave me the confidence to create a new livelihood by following my heart."

She is incredibly knowledgeable about the range of careers available to physicians and provided me with advice and connections which I would not have found on my own.  From the start she encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and try different things.  I was laid off unexpectedly in early 2017, and Heather gave me the confidence to create a new livelihood by following my heart and making decisions based on trust, not fear.  Now I am enjoying working part-time in a clinical setting in addition to teaching and writing.

- Sue Zimmermann, MD

Orthopedic Surgeon
Devki Patel

After months of struggling to find a non-clinical career that matched my values and passion, I stumbled upon Heather's website which truly changed my life."

Heather's insightful and personalized approach to career coaching made me think outside the box since she took the time to evaluate my personality, values, interests, and preferred lifestyle.

Through her encouragement, practical advice, and professional connections, I was able to find a non-clinical position at a state Medicaid agency that aligned with my passion for population health and serving low-income communities. In addition to her coaching sessions, Heather has built a community of like-minded physicians through her blog, and I feel honored to recommend her to friends and colleagues who seek to make positive changes in their professional and personal lives.

- Devki Patel, MD

Jay Macregor

Working with Heather ultimately helped me leave my job in corporate healthcare and find a path that was much more fulfilling."

My career was going reasonably well but I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling I could do better; or at least find a better long-term career fit.  

I was able to find a surgery job that better aligned with my goals and professional interests.  Additionally, Heather helped me start a consulting business which has allowed me to pursue a true passion: helping medical students, residents, and attendings surgeons navigate the challenges of high-stakes standardized exams.    

If you are reading this as a “Type A” surgeon who doesn’t think coaching is for you, I would encourage you to give Heather a shot.  I’m very glad I did!

- Jay MacGregor, MD

Colorectal Surgeon

“I gained the confidence in myself to develop an action plan that blended the best parts of my experiences and interests into a cohesive career." 

Through our work, I learned to trust myself to make good decisions for my own future – something I hadn’t realized I was struggling with because as an emergency physician, I make life-changing decisions with patients every day. 

By feeding my creativity and interests in other realms of my professional life, I’ve found renewed compassion for my patients and myself, making every shift an opportunity to actually care for people. Thank you Heather. I really couldn’t have made these changes without your help!

- Liz McMurtry, DO

Emergency Medicine Physician

The simple truth is - Heather Fork totally helped me change my life."

I never would have had the courage to make the changes I’ve made without her unwavering support, wealth of knowledge and commitment. 

When I first started working with Heather, I was downtrodden...I’d been practicing medicine for 20+ years and yet had never quite found my place.  During the first year I worked with Heather, I left the practice I’d been working at, and recreated an entirely new professional purpose.

I’m now an executive and leadership coach, a university professor, and a Brené Brown Daring Way facilitator, and I have never looked back.  I love what I am doing more than at any other time in my professional life and I credit Heather with seeing in me what I was never able to see in myself, until now.

Don’t hesitate, don’t doubt yourself, schedule your time with Heather as soon as possible- she can help you reconnect to your purpose and reinvent your life.

- Amie Langbein, DO

Family Physician
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"After 30 years in academic medicine, I wanted a career change but had no idea where to start. Medicine was all I knew."

I signed up for coaching with Heather and it transformed my life. She helped me get clear on what I wanted my life to look like. We reviewed my skills, values, and strengths. She instilled hope in me that change IS possible after 50 years! 

The outcome is that I have created a life I love! I practice endocrinology part-time and own a life coaching business! Coaching with Heather is one of the best investments I have made in my life. 

- Karen Barnard, MBBCh, MPH

Endocrinologist and Life Coach

"Heather was my source of hope during a time when I felt stuck and confused. She gave me the permission and confidence to reach higher than I believed I could."

After graduating from residency and starting a family, I lost sight of why I became a physician. I struggled to convince myself to stay in a career that was clearly the wrong fit for me and my family. My anxiety about work was at an all-time high when I reached out to Heather. She provided something that my mentors, friends, and family could not – rather than just offering career advice, she changed the way I think about my life so that I could understand how my career would fit into it. I realized I wasn’t ready to give up on medicine and eventually found a job in academic medicine. I finally feel that excitement for medicine that I used to feel when I was in training. More importantly, I feel like I can be the role model to my young daughter who may one day also face similar challenges between career and family. Thank you, Heather, for all your kindness, support, and skillful coaching! The experience was life-changing!

- Yuri Shindo, MD

Internal Medicine Physician
Camille Gardner-Beasley

"As a Physician, your personal and even professional needs are often overlooked. I learned how to prioritize my career goals by working with Dr. Heather Fork."

She taught me how to put into practice what I knew in theory, that taking care of myself was a priority. I learned to give myself permission to make the career choices that would give me the work-life balance I desperately craved and needed. The process of confronting fears and insecurities was a bit scary, but well worth it in the end. I am now a happier version of myself with a non-clinical job that I truly enjoy!

- Camille Gardner-Beasley, MD

Family Medicine
Anna testimonial

"After 10 years in outpatient family medicine I felt stuck and knew I needed a change but I didn’t know where to begin. Thankfully I found Heather and she guided me every step of the way."

She helped me carefully assess my interests, strengths and passions while also providing me with constructive changes to implement in my job search and resume. With Heather’s help, I just landed a fully remote UM position and I am also exploring coaching as well. Now I feel like the possibilities are endless and I’m excited for this next chapter in the nonclinical world! Thank you Heather for changing my life for the better.

- Ana Jacobellis, DO


"I'm truly thankful to have had the opportunity to be coached by Heather, she is not only a resourceful mentor but a wise and supportive friend. I'm honored to recommend Heather to all my friends and colleagues."

I had been a practicing Internist for 20 years when I reached a point when I needed to make a serious change in my career path. While I enjoyed seeing patients, I was not satisfied with my life-work balance. My job was taking me away from my family and left me little time and energy to do other things that are important and meaningful to me. I came across Dr. Fork's podcast; The Doctor's Crossing Carpe Diem Podcast, it is such an informative and enjoyable podcast for any physician who wants to do more with their career and life in general. Then I had the pleasure to get career coaching from Heather, it was truly an amazing experience. Heather has broad knowledge of all the different career paths that are available for physicians, she is so insightful and very easy to talk to. She helped me clarify my goals, examine my own mindset and definition of success. Together we developed a clear plan and actionable steps to reach these goals. I eventually made a career transition to a remote non-clinical position that allows me to do meaningful work which aligns with my personal and professional goals and priorities.

- Abbey Awad, MD

Internal Medicine