Q&A: Nijm encourages physicians to elevate their negotiation skills with MDNegotiation.com
The ever-changing landscape of medicine makes it more important than ever for physicians to advocate for patients, their practices and themselves, according to Lisa M. Nijm, MD, JD.
With a passion for patient care and health care advocacy in mind at the start of her career, Nijm pursued a highly competitive combined dual degree program at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and School of Law. Today, when she is not working in her capacity as an ophthalmic surgeon and founder of Warrenville EyeCare & LASIK in the western suburbs of Chicago, she is educating other ophthalmologists about the business side of the industry and how to develop successful contract negotiation skills.
Healio/OSN talked with Nijm about education, negotiation and broadening her audience with the launch of the website www.MDNegotiation.com.
Question: What was the impetus for you to pursue both MD and JD credentials?
Answer: I went into college as a pre-med biology and health science major with the intention of practicing medicine and caring for patients as I had seen my father do for many years as an internist. However, throughout college, I saw medicine changing. In particular, with the advent of managed care, I observed firsthand how my father had to advocate for his patients on HMOs to receive proper treatment. In the process, I also took a speech class set up like a courtroom, which I enjoyed and excelled at, and it began a year-long career search for what I really wanted to do and where I felt I could best help.
In short, I came to the realization that medicine is my passion, but with the changing landscape of health care, it was becoming more imperative for physicians to serve as advocates for their patients both inside and outside the office. I came upon SIU’s dual degree MD/JD program, which accepts two students per year and is designed to train physicians who believe a legal education will augment their primary career goals in medicine.
Q: Would you recommend this path to others?
A: Absolutely. I have found it to be incredibly rewarding. With advanced education in two professional degrees, doors have opened for me to “think outside of the box” and look for innovative solutions to challenges in practice and patient care. My hope is to utilize my education and training to help advance ophthalmology for the betterment of my patients and the profession.
Q: How and why did you create MDNegotiation.com?
A: I am very grateful for the support and guidance I have received from many incredible mentors in ophthalmology who have helped me get to this point in my career. I created MDNegotiation.com as a way to give back through teaching and mentoring. My particular interest in this topic stems from receiving numerous questions from colleagues, many of whom, unfortunately, were unhappy with the terms of their contracts and faced “David vs. Goliath” type scenarios of negotiating with a large group or private equity firm. The challenges they were facing were not surprising, as there is a well-documented gap in medical education on the business aspects of medicine.
To see what I could do to help fill the gap, I put my dual degree to work and started teaching. After quietly lecturing at approximately 40 residency programs across the country on negotiation, I began offering coaching workshops at larger meetings. The feedback was rewarding and encouraging — how vital this knowledge is and how this kind of education is not readily available. Further, as an ophthalmologist and a peer, my perspective and coaching style were unique — I am someone who understands the difficulties from their perspective, so I was able to give them advice as an ophthalmologist while coaching them as an attorney. After watching me in action, Dr. Paul Lee and Dr. Ruth Williams (two of the many mentors I am privileged to have) encouraged me to take this knowledge to a wider audience, and thus MDNegotiation.com was born.
Q: What successes have you seen so far?
A: One of my favorite success stories is from a colleague in Southern California. After taking one of my negotiation workshops, she messaged me that she was inspired to negotiate her worth and motivated to address her partnership agreement. Unbeknownst to me, she had been discussing the idea of becoming a partner for about a year, and in her own words, “as a direct result of your workshop, I finally had the knowledge and the courage to make it happen.” I was beyond thrilled for her. I experience a lot of joy hearing similar success stories from other ophthalmologists who have been inspired through these workshops to take their negotiation skills to the next level.
Q: What key piece of advice would you give to ophthalmologists looking to serve as better advocates for themselves?
A: We typically encounter difficulties with high-stakes negotiations because we oftentimes do not receive the proper training to hone our skills first. I like to give the analogy of cataract surgery — no one would reasonably walk into the OR to take out a 4+ black, nuclear sclerotic cataract, in a high myope, status post-vitrectomy as their first case in residency, so why do we try to do it to ourselves in contract negotiations? I launched the website to coach ophthalmologists how to better negotiate for themselves from an MD/JD perspective. My advice is to take the time to learn how to negotiate, practice and sharpen your skills before entering into a high-stakes scenario. The goal of MDNegotiation.com is to offer the needed education, practical workshops and individual coaching to accomplish this on a wider scale. My hope is also to work together with academic programs and ophthalmic societies to incorporate these skill-building workshops into educational curricula to help ophthalmologists at all stages of their career.
Most people are not born great negotiators, but they can learn how to become one. Negotiation skills are life skills, and it is prudent for physicians to invest the time and the energy to learn how to do it well.