Let’s Talk Contracts

I’ve spent this week sifting through a truly baffling 19-page contract from a prospective employer. Don’t get me wrong, it was your standard legal agreement, and I’ve read several others before this that looked similar. I just hadn’t considered the weight of what it entails until now.

The first 17 pages thoroughly outlined the duties I have as a practicing dentist, including my moral and ethical obligations. It also includes all the perceived misconduct that could get me fired, including unethical behavior, harmful practice, practicing outside of legal guidelines, privacy breaches, dishonesty, and violating the integrity of the practice.

It hit me that this legally binding document was simply saying, “Be a good person.” Isn’t it sad that we have to outline what it means to be a “good” provider, and then list out the consequences of violating that standard?

I took an oath to do good, to do no harm, to respect my patient’s autonomy, to preserve patient confidentiality, and to promise to provide the best, most appropriate, and scientifically accurate care. That just about covers all the details of the contract.

This document, if you ask me, is written with an undertone of fear, because it covers the worst-case scenarios.

It describes all the limitations of the non-compete. Again, another standard that states the employee cannot take employees, patients, intellectual property, records, or even practice within a determined radius of that practice for several years, “Or else.”

Liken this to signing a prenup before marriage. We haven’t made the relationship official yet, but here are the parameters of our breakup. This is silly to me. I get the practicality because unfortunately, there are people out there who will come in, swipe every gem you’ve got, and then call it theirs somewhere else.

I got dizzy from the legal jargon, then sprang anxiety from the pages. It was a dense stack of negativity that I let sit on my desk for a full week before touching again.

Until I reminded myself that this contract was just a pile of paper with black ink on it. It isn’t an iron shackle tied around my leg. It isn’t a reflection of the practice or its owner. It was written by a lawyer who was tasked with covering anything and everything that could possibly go wrong.

What’s important is this: You are a free person. 

You can, at any point, leave what no longer serves you. 

For me, the proof was in the pudding – my contract can be terminated with a 90-day notice. 

The initial contract is the employer’s wish list, but I had my own, so I negotiated it. I agreed to the hours I’d work in this location, and they agreed to the monetary value of that. The mutual respect was established with a simple act of negotiation. My employer listened to my needs and explained his own, and we met in a middle space without compromising our values. The rest of the document is of very little concern to me, as my only true commitment is to practice fully in my integrity.