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Step one: Don't panic. Your job loss could become an opportunity.

Fam Pract Manag. 1999;6(9):49-50

It used to be that physicians were largely immune from the “lay-offs,” “rightsizing” and “downsizing” that became commonplace in the 1990s. But that was before they began signing employment contracts in record numbers. Now, as an unfortunate result of being employed, some physicians are experiencing a new type of treatment: They're getting fired. And when it happens, they often don't know what to do. I hope that you'll never experience a job loss, but if you do, here are a few points to consider.

Remain professional

No matter how badly wronged you feel in the moments following your termination, be careful of what you say and how you act. Don't try to change your employer's mind about the decision (it almost never works), and don't burn your bridges; you may want this employer to be a reference for you in the future.

Ask your employer to put your severance package in writing, and make sure you have a copy of your employment contract. If you decide to consult a lawyer, it will be essential for you to have copies of all employment agreements, letters, written policies and other related communications between you and your former employer, including any communications having to do with your termination. Whether you consult a lawyer is a personal decision. You may think it best to put the past behind you and get on with your life. If that's how you feel, by all means do it. But if you have questions or feel ill-equipped to deal with the legal issues surrounding your termination, get professional guidance.

Assess your circumstances

One issue you may need help with is determining whether you're bound by a restrictive covenant that would prevent you from practicing in the surrounding area. If your employment contract included such a covenant, don't despair. It may be unenforceable, superseded or voided. And if all else fails, a lawyer may be able to negotiate an agreement with your former employer so that you won't have to relocate and rebuild a patient base.

Another question to answer is whether your job loss may also result in the termination of any faculty appointments or your participation as a provider in an HMO or other health plans. It may be clearly stated in your employment agreement, but often the answers are not as clear as they may seem. A lawyer can help you determine what avenues of appeal may be open to you. Something else to consider is whether the loss of any appointments, privileges or staff memberships will need to be disclosed when you apply to other hospitals and health plans.

You may also want to consider whether you have a claim against your former employer. Unfortunately, it's difficult to provide any general advice here because each case is fact-specific. Discuss your case with a lawyer. And even if your lawyer tells you that you have a valid claim against your former employer, you may still just want to put the termination behind you and get on with your life. Or you may feel the prospect of vindicating your name and/or receiving a settlement or judgment is just what you need to help you get on with your life. It's your call. One thing is certain though: The legal process moves slowly and is far from perfect, so it's best not to anticipate a prompt and lucrative outcome to any litigation.

Move forward

Losing a job is one of the most stressful events in a person's life. The emotions you'll feel may be similar to those that occur after the death of a loved one. Be prepared to experience disbelief, denial, anger and, finally, acceptance. Don't try to block these feelings. There may be no greater impediment to getting your career back on track than the inability to put the pain of a termination behind you. Life will go on, even for people like physicians whose identities are closely tied to their jobs. In the meantime, try not to let anger overtake you.

You should try to resist the temptation to criticize people or institutions for how you've been treated. There are several good reasons not to complain about your job loss to anyone who'll listen:

  • The person who you think is responsible for your termination may have had no choice in the matter. He or she might have received a directive, or perhaps a shrinking budget or a tight economy may be to blame. Bad-mouthing that person to others may increase your likelihood of getting a poor reference and decrease your chances of being offered another position within the organization.

  • If you were fired because your former employer went bankrupt, it won't help to criticize the institution. When the institution emerges from bankruptcy, as many do, you may not be considered for rehire if you've been openly critical in the meantime.

  • Your energy would be better invested in a search for new opportunities and challenges.

Professional societies, medical associations, recruiters and colleagues are excellent resources for job leads and career advice. Some organizations, like the Medical Group Management Association (; 888-608-5601) and the AAFP (; 800-274-2237), offer job search and career planning services. Most medical journals, including this one have a classified advertising section devoted to job opportunities. Although discussing your joblessness with people may not be pleasant, it may generate some sound suggestions, leads or even an offer.

Take a look at the bigger picture

Some people benefit greatly from an unexpected job loss. It may provide you an opportunity to realign your career and decide what you'd really like to do with your life. Many people regret never having found the courage to try something different. Here's your chance. Losing your job may even be life's way of saying that a more fulfilling and worthwhile role awaits you.

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Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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