How the FTC's noncompete ban could change the physician workforce

The Federal Trade Commission on April 23 voted to ban noncompete clauses for most U.S. workers, and eight leaders joined Becker's to discuss how the decision could affect the physician workforce. 

Editor's note: Responses were edited lightly for clarity and brevity. 

Eric Anderson, MD. Interventional Pain Management Physician (Lewisville, Texas): I believe in the short term there will be little to no effect on the physician workforce. This will likely be in litigation for some time, and there are a number of loopholes in the provision, for example, exempting nonprofit entities. Most hospitals as well as some of the country's largest health insurers will not be affected by this as it is currently written. The huge companies are where this could have the most impact if written correctly. Additionally, many states already have language stating noncompetes are not enforceable.  

Emily Ast. Attorney and Founder of Ast Physician Contracts (New York City): It remains to be seen whether the ban will become effective due to likely legal challenges to the rule. If it does become effective, it would lead to an increased ability for physicians to seek alternative employment if their current employment is not meeting their needs, which could lead to increased compensation for physicians. This could also lead to increased satisfaction and innovation, as physicians will be able stay within their communities while being able to change jobs or even start a new business venture. 

Ernest Braxton, MD. Spine and Neurological Surgery Specialist at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics and Neurosurgery (Vail, Colo.): A ban on noncompete clauses would improve the physician workforce, granting professionals the freedom to pursue new opportunities without legal constraints. This newfound mobility could lead to a more diverse and dynamic workforce, with physicians more inclined to explore underserved areas or pursue specialties in high demand. While there may be concerns about workforce instability within healthcare organizations, the ban's exclusion of nonprofits would mitigate this issue, ensuring continued stability in critical healthcare sectors.

Bert Mandelbaum, MD. Sports Medicine Surgeon in Santa Monica, Calif.: The ban will have minimal effect on the physician workforce as most physicians are now in integrated systems that don't require a noncompete agreement and in others where it is unenforceable. Over the years noncompetes in medicine have proven to be meaningless in practice and theory for both the physician and the employer. Issues of intellectual property, design plans and other specific plans can and should be covered by other types of agreements. At this time, the most impactful problem facing doctors is burnout. In most cases there is no harmonization between their personal mission and the position they hold. In these situations, it is imperative that one is able to transition to jobs that are optimal for their professional and personal success. Removal of the FTC ban on noncompetes would freely allow for these recalibrations.

Kristopher Schroeder, MD. Anesthesiologist and Professor at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (Madison): I am hopeful that this ban will remove barriers and enhance physician agency over their work environment and employment situation.  Frequently, physicians are tethered to a geographic location for family or other reasons that limit their mobility and compulsions to remain in a sub-optimal working environment may significantly hinder physician development and wellness.

Matthew Searles. Partner at Merritt Healthcare Advisors. It will remain to be seen, but at the very least perhaps this will encourage more collaboration between employees and employers. 

Harry Severance, MD. Adjunct Assistant Professor at Duke University School of Medicine (Durham, N.C.): The ruling may be a win for many doctors. But initial reviewers have pointed out that this protection does not cover all workplaces, such as nonprofit organizations, so there lacks clarity yet on how different physician employment types will be protected — or not. But will this change have the effect of forcing those employers who have (under noncompete protection) had little motivation to improve their abusive, increasingly violent and moral injury-promoting healthcare workplaces to finally make improvements?

Richard White, MD. Orthopedic Surgeon at Fitzgibbon Hospital (Marshall, Mo.): The ban will benefit physicians, as we have been moving to a greater dependence on employment, rather than private ownership models; noncompetes have been an unnecessary hindrance that now has been lifted. Salaries and overall satisfaction should show significant improvement for the healthcare provider as well as the community and the people they care for.

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