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As a physician, do you know the average salary for your specialty and location? What about the average signing or relocation bonus? If you don’t know or are unsure of how to get that information, you are not alone.

In a society where most employees hesitate to openly share compensation numbers, it can be difficult to determine what you should be earning, physician or otherwise. Unfortunately, employers benefit much more from this than employees. It’s all about leverage. If you don’t know that another doctor is paid more than you for a similar job, then your employer won’t feel pressured to increase your pay. On the flip side, it’s difficult to make your own case for a raise without having an idea of your worth.

If you are going to negotiate for higher pay, whether you’re signing a new employment contract or a renewal, you need to know what your peers are making. If you know the norms for physicians like yourself, you know what you should be earning and have the leverage to confidently ask for what you deserve. Luckily, there are sources for physician compensation data that are well-respected and commonly referenced. Not all data is created equal, though; the sources you reference should be specific and high-quality.

MGMA currently provides the gold standard in physician compensation reports. With MGMA, you can view how average salaries have changed over time for the exact type of work you do. Not all reports clearly separate inpatient/outpatient, surgical/non-surgical, academic/clinical, or other key identifiers where applicable. MGMA provides these additional levels of separation along with a range of percentiles for each. You do have to pay for MGMA access, but what you are able to negotiate will likely outweigh the cost of obtaining the data by a large margin. Additionally, employers often reference MGMA themselves to determine how much they want to offer you. Having access to the same data will put you and your employer on the same page in negotiations and allow you to clearly show when your current salary is below average.

Some employment contract professionals also provide MGMA data with their services for additional value, and others even include their own datasets. Some of these data sources seek to expand upon MGMA, filling any gaps and providing greater transparency. While MGMA is the current standard and is necessary to negotiate on a level playing field with employers, it has its limits. MGMA data is collected by survey, meaning the numbers are not always verifiable with a contract or proof that salaries, signing bonuses, and more are being reported accurately. Certain sub-specialties also do not receive enough survey responses to provide a comprehensive view of the market for those physicians. Data that can provide details for all specialties and be verified with the proper documentation will offer the most transparent view of physician compensation. The more high-quality data you can access, the more well-equipped you will be in contract negotiations.

Once you have the data, you have the leverage. Employers typically want to pay you the least amount possible, so they can save money and pad the bottom line. It’s as simple as that. However, if you can prove that you deserve more or could be paid more elsewhere, you make a strong case for a compensation increase. Good data provides the proof you need, and employers know it. They regularly access MGMA and other reports, so they should know when they’re offering you below-average pay. After referencing the data for your specialty and location, you can ask for a compensation increase knowing that you’re not requesting too much or too little.

Kyle Claussen is a physician contract attorney.

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