Physician Health

Navigating physician employment during COVID-19: Evaluate your options

Updated May 1, 2020

This is the first article of a three-part series on physician employment during COVID-19. Read articles two and three.

Physician employees of hospitals, health systems and other entities are likely to confront unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Factors such as the financial distress of their employer, changes in clinical service demand, and growing anxiety related to caring for COVID-19 diagnosed patients may complicate the employer-employee relationship.

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To help physicians navigate the challenges and unique options presented by COVID-19, the AMA has developed a guide of strategic, legal, and contractual considerations for employed physicians. 

Download Navigating Physician Employment During COVID-19 guide

In the midst of the COVID-19 emergency, many hospitals, health systems and other employers are making difficult decisions regarding whether to modify or sever existing employment or service arrangements with employees, including physicians.  Physicians should engage with the leadership of their organization to better understand the unique challenges that hospitals or health system employers are facing, and to ensure that the frontline physician voice is present when these decisions are being made.  For employed physicians, potential changes to the underling employment relationship and terms may represent significant challenges, but could also provide potential opportunities.

Check the AMA’s COVID-19 Resource Center for additional information about COVID-19 related topics.

Evaluate options

Given the realities presented by COVID-19, physicians should proactively consider their best plan of action should their employer wish to modify their current employment arrangement, and/or if the current situation presents an opportunity to change or terminate the relationship in a manner beneficial to the employed physician.  Physicians should candidly answer the following key questions in an effort to assess their employment standing and desired outcome:

  • What can I live with?  Identify what changes in compensation, duties, schedule, and other variables are doable from a financial and lifestyle perspective, and for how long. 
  • What are deal breakers?  Assess which modifications to my current employment would be non-negotiable (for example, redeployment to another department of the health system, significant cut in compensation, etc.).
  • What is the market for my services?  While emergency department or infectious disease specialists may be in high demand in some markets, subspecialty services may be paused during the state of emergency, causing a lack of demand for certain services.  Some regions or markets may be more severely impacted than others.  An honest assessment of where alternative employment may be sought and areas that have historically been underserved with respect to a given specialty will be helpful in ascertaining options.
  • What do I want my practice to look like post-COVID?  Although the timeline is uncertain, the public health emergency presented by the COVID-19 outbreak will end.  Changes to your employment arrangement may be short or long term, and this may be a time to reassess your path forward in terms of work-life balance, location, setting, and other factors.

Once you know where you stand, you can better leverage your legal and contractual remedies and formulate a strategy.

Read more articles in the series

Disclaimer: The information and guidance provided in this document is believed to be current and accurate at the time of posting. This information is not intended to be, and should not be construed to be or relied upon as, legal, financial, or consulting advice.  Consider consulting with an attorney and/or other advisor to obtain guidance relating to your specific situation. References and links to third parties do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship or warranty by the AMA, and the AMA hereby disclaims all express and implied warranties of any kind.