Becoming an independent contractor
Does this sound like you?
You’re ready to graduate, and you have a good idea where you want to practice. You don’t want to work for someone else because you don’t want to spend your time gaining patients for that other doctor. You want to start your own practice but you have no money for collateral for a business loan. What can you do?
One excellent possibility for a new DC is to become an independent contractor (IC). As the title states, you are independent; you have your own business.
But you are working in the same office as another doctor, sharing space. Many other professions do this: Massage therapists work with DCs, medical doctors share space; dentists in various specialties work in the same office.
Contracting i a great way to combine resources and build up your practice until you have a large enough patient base that you can go out and find your own office. Another advantage to working with another doctor is that you can cover for each other for vacations, illnesses, maternity leave, and long weekends or professional commitments.
If you decide you like the idea of becoming an independent contractor, here are the steps to getting there:
1. Find a doctor in the area where you want to practice. You might have to do some selling to find someone, by using your résumé and sending out inquiries. You might also find a doctor who only wants to work part-time or who has professional commitments that require travel, or who is expecting a baby and wants someone to cover.
The possibilities are endless and each is unique. Note that some doctors who advertise for associates (see the article on this subject) might be willing to share space in an IC relationship; it never hurts to ask.
2. Prepare contract. Once you find an office, you’ll need to have a contract prepared, which spells out all of the requirements for both parties. The best type of arrangement is one in which you pay rent, and the other doctor provides you with space, use of the staff for scheduling and bookkeeping, and use of equipment and supplies.
Avoid percentage-based arrangements. You should not have to sign a non-compete agreement with the other doctor, since you are working independently, but you may have to sign a non-solicitation agreement, which protects the other doctor from you stealing his or her patients when you leave.
3. Prepare to set up your practice. You’ll need to establish your legal form, obtain Medicare provider status, and order signs and marketing materials.
4. Obtain financing. Many independent contractors obtain financing in the form of a line of credit to pay personal expenses and the minimal startup costs of the new practice. You will probably have to provide a personal guarantee, but you’d probably have to do this anyway.
Once you have set up your business-in-a-business, you are ready to go out, get patients, and begin working as a DC.
• Be sure you spend time in the practice before you sign a contract, observing, talking with staff and making sure you will be comfortable in this practice.
• Don’t forget the little things: Do you want your own phone line? What name will the staff use when answering your phone? What hours can you see patients? Can you put signs up outside the office advertising your practice?
• Your appointments, patient records, and accounting information should all be kept separate.
• Determine a level of “professional courtesy” which is acceptable to both doctors. That is, each doctor should be willing to see a certain number of the other doctor’s patients each month without compensation. Don’t let these numbers get lopsided. That’s when hard feelings set in.
Some independent contractor situations can turn into long-term partnerships, while others become a stepping-stone for new chiropractors to try their wings in a low-cost environment.