In years past, signing bonuses were added luxuries in job offers, but now with the shortage of primary care physicians, for many employers, signing bonuses are part of the new normal.
“Sign on bonuses were once considered icing on the cake, but now they’re more like the cake itself. They’ve gone from being nice to have to being expected,” says Jim Stone, president of the Medicus Firm
and the National Association of Physician Recruiters.
The Medicus Firm’s annual physician compensation survey
showed that 85.27% of the searches the firm filled last year offered a signing bonus. The average amount was $24,037, but the highest bonus was $150,000, says Stone.
“There are literally thousands of opportunities that are competing for the same physician, so anything that a hospital or physician group can do to stand out is a good thing,” he says.
But Stone says because of that fierce competition, it’s not likely that the bonuses will be negotiated.
“Most hospitals these days are stepping forward with their best offer as opposed to trying to negotiate, and I think that’s a function of the competitiveness of the market,” he says. “I don’t think they start low and expect to go higher. For the most part, they offer what they can afford.”
With physician compensation plans changing to base salary plus incentive compensation based on a variety of measures, signing bonuses help established physicians get through the interim period where their compensation may take a dip.
“If an internist in one location was making $250,000, and they are going for a job with a base salary of $200,000 plus incentives, in order to prevent them from having a $50,000 decrease in compensation while they ramp up their production, the signing bonus helps to bridge that gap,” Stone says.
For young physicians leaving medical school with enormous debt, signing bonuses and loan forgiveness programs are a large draw.
“For those who are coming out of training, that is money they will be excited to earn. Going from making $30,000 a year to their new income, [signing bonuses] helps with down payments on houses and upgrades on vehicles,” Stone says. “It helps them establish some stability.”
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