Published in Non-Clinical

Understanding Compensation Basics for Healthcare Job Seekers

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11 min read
At the end of every student’s rotation, when they are sitting across the table from me and we finish their performance review, I give them career advice. It does not matter if they are finishing their very first rotation or the last one before they graduate, they all get the same speech and it is about what to look for when they go out for their first job.
I’m a physical therapist with an undergraduate degree in business management, along with holding a current multi-clinic managerial role past four years, but what I have to say applies to any healthcare professional who is searching for jobs.
During schooling, most future clinicians will have some instruction on the basics of a job search. It will cover things such as how to write a healthcare resume or how to interview for a healthcare job. These are important things to know when you are going to start your first job search; however, there is something else that is just as important to consider, and that is your wages and compensation.
Your compensation is generally defined as your: wages, insurance, disability coverage, retirement planning, and in our case, professional development. As you read along, we will cover the basics in these areas.


The word "wages" is used to refer to the money you are paid. You can be either paid an hourly wage or put on a salary. We won’t go into wages much in this article, as that is its own article altogether!
The rest of your compensation package would possibly include:


One thing that many people want to know with a job, is does it provide health insurance? There are other forms of insurance that you might want to ask about as well, such as vision, dental and life insurance.
Health insurance
We all know that health insurance does assist in paying for medical services, since some can be fairly expensive to pay for out of pocket. Ask the potential employer for a copy of their insurance plans - many will be happy to provide you with one.
When looking over the health insurance plans, take a look at your current needs and ask yourself what you would need covered.
If you are young, single and are very healthy, you could go for a plan with a higher deductible that maybe only covers a few services that you would utilize. Many times these plans are cheaper, or in some cases free to just the employee, because on average you will not be using it very often.
On the other hand, if you are married, have children or require frequent doctor visits you would want to look at plans that provide a wider coverage and a lower deductible. These plans many times cost more per paycheck but with the lower deductible, you can reach your out of pocket cost sooner which then will decrease what you will pay for medical services.
Dental and vision insurance
Dental and vision insurance are usually cheap to purchase through the employer and, depending on your needs, are often worth it. Regular checkups on your teeth and eyes can go a long way in preventing issues and addition to your overall health.
Life insurance
Life insurance is a means of providing monetary coverage for loved ones in case of your untimely passing. If you pass away, your family could have expenses that cannot be covered because of your loss of income. A life insurance policy will provide beneficiaries with some form money to allow them to cover costs. Beneficiaries are people whom you appoint to receive any compensation from your passing.
Employers will many times provide legal counsel to answer questions and set this up. This would be a good time to meet with a lawyer to set up a living will and/or a trust. Again, large companies many times have legal counsel available to employees but smaller companies may suggest someone or say that you must find one on your own. It may be an out of pocket cost but it is something that is very well worth it in the long run.

Disability coverage

Short-term and long-term disability are sometimes offered, and you usually will need to opt-in for them.
Short-term disability will cover anything over typical sick leave, which is often five days. If you get sick or injured and cannot perform your usual work duties, short term disability will provide you some form of compensation. In some states, maternity leave might be covered by short term disability so be sure to ask.
Long term disability comes into play if you are not able to work for 6 months or longer. The compensation that is provided depends on the employer and the percentage you receive is determined by the employer. Both of these are “nice to have” from an employer but if they are not offered, you can look at purchasing these on your own.


Make sure to think forward to your retirement, as there will come a time when you can no longer work (or no longer wish to work!) and you will need to be able to support yourself when that time comes.
The most common retirement option offered is a 401(k) plan. A 401(k) plan is an investment account in which you deposit an amount of money into from each pay period so over time it gradually grows so when you retire you will have money to live on. A 401(k) plan is an account that you deposit money that you have not yet paid taxes on into and when you withdraw it in the future you pay taxes on it.
The benefit of this plan is that if you are going to be in a lower tax bracket when you retire, less taxes will be taken out then.
Roth IRA
You may have heard of a 401(k) plan and a Roth IRA and wondered what the difference is between them. A Roth IRA is an account that you put in money that has already been taxed and you can take the money at retirement tax-free.
The benefit is if you plan on being in a higher tax bracket at retirement and currently are in a lower tax bracket, that is more money you get to keep.
Employers can offer to match your contributions to your retirement accounts up to a certain amount. This is highly suggested because it is free money being given to you.
Some employers, depending on their size, can offer profit sharing or stock options. These are not very common to entry level employees but are sometimes offered to high level executives. Again, depending on the size of the employer, financial counseling services could be available to employees. If not, there are many financial institutions which specialize in this area. A good suggestion is to talk to a financial specialist to determine which retirement plan would best fit your current and future situations.

Professional Development

Finally, an area that is sometimes overlooked, despite its importance, is compensation for your professional development. Once you leave school and start working in your profession, expenses such as student loans, licensure fees, and continuing education costs can be things we practitioners do not think about when we are in school.
Some people may have been able to pay for school and were able to leave without any debt. However, many more graduate with some form of debt from school.

Student loan payback

Student loan assistance could be offered by working in certain areas or fields but employers are now starting to offer some form of it as a way to bring in new graduates. Employers can offer a sum of money paid over a period of time that could be used to pay on loans. The drawback to this is that you may be required to work for the employer for a set period of time to get the entire amount.

Continuing education

To continue working as a clinician, you will have to maintain a license and, to maintain this license, you will have to complete continuing education courses. Continuing education is to make sure that you are keeping your skills current and pushing the overall profession forward. It is easy to get stagnate in your skills by doing the same thing over and over again, so doing courses provide you an opportunity to get deeper study in an area or learn about the newest evidence available.
Continuing education courses can be free, or could cost thousands of dollars. Since this is something that is required for your license, employers will help with this cost.
In-house courses. Some employers will bring in courses locally to their employees and the cost will many times be free. This cuts down on other costs such as travel, lodging, and meals. Since the company is putting up the money for the course, you may have to sign an agreement to continue to work for the company for a period of time and if you leave before that time then you will have to pay the company back for the course.
Course stipends. Another option is having a set amount of money for each employee to use for continuing education. This set amount usually only pays for just the course so the cost of travel, meals, and lodging will then be at your expense. Employers could want all their employees to all have similar training so they would put you into a track of courses that would count for your continuing education.

Licensing fees

Finally, ask your potential employer if they will pay for your license to practice. Some employers might not want to pay for your license since you must have it to practice, but others will cover the cost of it. Sometimes if you happen to work on the border of a state the employer will pay to have you obtain an additional license in that neighboring state just to have an extra person available to cover.
These are things to think about, and research as well, when you go out to get your first job. Take time to look at your current and future situation and plan on what you might need. If you have questions about what you might need, talk to friends and family about what they have in terms of these areas.
Again, many employers will provide you with the information of what they offer so it does not hurt to ask. Do not worry if something is not provided by an employer; many times it can be purchased on your own, but if the cost is too high, ask if you will be reimbursed for the cost.
Good luck out there as you step into the next phase of life.
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