Private Practices

4 tips for young physicians building a career in private practice

Timothy M. Smith , Contributing News Writer

Making the jump to private practice can be a scary thing for many young physicians. After all, medical education often doesn’t prepare doctors well for the business side of medicine. But working for oneself can have numerous benefits, including higher pay, more autonomy and greater professional fulfillment.

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A webinar produced by the AMA Private Practice Physicians Section (AMA-PPPS) featured insights from three young physicians who have successfully built careers in private practice. While acknowledging the stress and uncertainty that can come with hanging your own shingle, they offered four key pieces of advice that all revolve around one message: You can do it.

It takes astute clinical judgment as well as a commitment to collaboration and solving challenging problems to succeed in independent settings that are often fluid, and the AMA offers the resources and support physicians need to both start and sustain success in private practice.

Find out more about the AMA Private Practice Physicians Section, which seeks to preserve the freedom, independence and integrity of private practice.

We know to be excellent at medicine requires a lot of training, so we assume as physicians to be good at anything else takes that amount of effort, and it doesn’t,” said Carolynn Francavilla  Brown, MD, a family physician and obesity medicine specialist who owns and operates Green Mountain Partners for Health, a four-physician family medicine practice in the Denver area. Dr. Francavilla Brown is also chair-elect of the AMA-PPPS Governing Council.

“Business can be quite complicated, but it also is fairly straightforward in that, at the end of the day, you have to make more money than your business costs to run,” Dr. Francavilla Brown said. “It is much less complex than what any of us are doing as physicians.”

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“The AMA has lots of private practice doctors in the PPPS who would be willing to mentor,” said Daniel E. Choi, MD, an orthopaedic spinal surgeon and founder of a solo practice, Spine Medicine and Surgery of Long Island, in New York. Dr. Choi also serves as alternate delegate of the AMA-PPPS.

“It’s so different to just talk to someone who's done it and [ask them]: What did you go through and how did you do it?” Dr. Choi said.

Physicians are accustomed to making referrals to help patients get the best care available, and they should keep that practice in mind when working for themselves.

“Just like in medicine, there is someone who has the answer for everything,” Dr. Francavilla Brown said. “So if you have a financial question, there are accountants. If you have a legal question, there are lawyers. If you have general questions, there is your medical society.”

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Existing employment contracts can often be make-or-break to your eventual move to private practice, so make sure you pay attention to their terms. Case in point: the noncompete clause.

“When you go to get your first job, you're going to be really excited because you're going to get a paycheck and you're going to get days off and you're thinking about all the things in the contract that are the things you want,” Dr. Francavilla Brown said. “What happens when you go to leave that job?”

The non-compete clause—which often includes a geographic radius—is a particularly important contract term for one reason: You’re probably not going to stay in any job forever.

“Don't be afraid to walk away from a contract that may not serve you,” Dr. Francavilla Brown said, “because you probably will want to exit it at some point.”

Learn more with the AMA STEPS Forward® Private Practice Playbook.