The less-discussed reason noncompetes hurt physicians

The Federal Trade Commission proposed a rule in January that would keep employees free from noncompete contracts, and some physicians are hoping the rule will bring more social stability. 

Harry Severance, MD, an adjunct assistant professor at Durham, N.C.-based Duke University School of Medicine, joined Becker's to discuss a lesser-known downside to noncompete clauses with regard to physicians: family and social disruption. 

Many of these clauses prevent physicians from working at healthcare providers in the same area where they had been working. So if physicians are looking to change employment, they risk having to uproot their families, find new support systems and settle on a new place to live. 

"I hear physicians talk about this all the time — that they're facing a noncompete, and what they'd like to do is go to the hospital on the other side of town so they don't disrupt their family and all the systems they've built, " he said. "... But from the employer's standpoint, and what one is always told, is that it's not part of the contract. Your family is your problem."

Dr. Severance also said employers will often prioritize physicians with families and relatives who live in the area because it "locks them into that community, in that job."

And as physicians increasingly move to employed models, noncompetes will only continue to hinder physicians' ability to negotiate their work arrangements, he said. 

The result, he added, is an exacerbation of the physician shortage. 

"What will happen is that patients won't get seen in a timely fashion, or maybe not at all," he said. "The bottom line is that patients get hurt."

Dr. Severance's advice if noncompetes do not get banned at a federal level? Negotiate, and get noncompete clauses removed from your contract. 

"It's a seller's market — if you know how to manage it," he said.

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