When Physicians Leave: Giving Your Notice of Resignation

October 1, 2012

Physicians leave practices all the time and most do so with the appropriate amount of notice …but sometimes, that's not the case.

A few weeks ago, I posted about a colleague who decided he couldn’t continue his solo private practice anymore and stay afloat. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one leaving the area for greener pastures. I don’t know the full details of their new positions, but I do know that one departure has been somewhat, let’s say, controversial.

The sticking point of said controversy was the amount of notice given to his partners. They were apparently taken by surprise when, two weeks before his intended departure, he announced to them they he was leaving for another practice on the other side of the state. This did not give them any time to look for a replacement. They had to redo their call schedule.

It’s one thing if you are in a big group. What’s the difference if you are on call once every eight weeks versus nine weeks? But when you go from a being on call every third week, to being on call every other week? That’s a big deal. I don’t know if they had any upcoming vacations planned, but if they did, this could sure put the kibosh on that.

They have, fortunately, been able to find a new physician to join them, but he had to give his current practice three months notice. “He had to do it the right way,” is how it was put. Now I don’t know if he “had to,” or if he felt he had to.

What is the proper amount of notice to give when one is leaving, not because there is necessarily a problem, but more to pursue a better opportunity? Naturally, if there are major problems in the practice and that is the reason for leaving, one may anticipate that a partner or associate could just up and leave with little notice. But if one is leaving for more money, or better hours, or to be closer to family, how much time is reasonable for both parties involved? Maybe I should say for all three parties – the physician who is transitioning, the practice he is leaving, and the practice who is waiting for him to start.

When I left my old practice, I gave them plenty of notice. I knew full well how hard it was to find our most recent associate, and I didn’t want to put my colleagues in a position where they had to take over all my work. I gave them six months’ notice, which was three more months than my contract required. Speaking of which, how enforceable is a clause that states how much notice must be given? And would anyone even try to enforce it? Say Dr. X said, “I’m leaving in two weeks,” would you try to make him stick it out for two-and-a-half months against his will if that’s what his contract says? Seems to me it would be a very uncomfortable situation.

I feel for my colleagues who have been left in the lurch. It will be a tough couple of months for them. I can only hope the same never happens in our practice.

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