That Time I Renegotiated My Salary

I have read a lot about the gender wage gap in medicine, so when I first thought about re-negotiating my own salary, I felt sure that I was in the right. During the process, I learned there are several steps between knowing that and translating that into a new paycheck, and now that I’m done, I want to share some of the useful tips I gained, from both my own experience and other resources. As our DC ACC WIC chapter just had a session on this topic, and Equal Pay Day was last month, the timing seems particularly apt.

I started with figuring out what I thought I deserved to be making based on my particular job specifics. There are some national numbers, like the ones collected by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), which give a median salary and break the range down into subgroups for each specialty. But, my sense is that salary is too variable by region to rely on this number alone. I found that reaching out to my area co-fellows about their compensations was the most helpful – to my very pleasant surprise, everyone I asked was happy to share!

Our ACC WIC Chapter Event speaker, Carolyn Carr-Ragland, stressed the importance of talking about salary in ranges over single numbers. While I’m not sure I understand the rationale behind this argument, I trust her expertise. She also pointed out that when we make the ask, we should come in at a higher percentage than what we actually want. Murmurs in the room were consistent with asking for 10 to 20% more – but she pushed back and said, why not 50%? Or 80%? While I’m not sure I could ask for 180% of what I’m worth with a straight face, I did think that her point was well taken. Women notoriously underask, and that sets us up for a lifetime of falling behind.

Once I had a number in mind, I had to request the meeting with the chair of my department. I was lucky to have a mentor at work who sat down with me and looked at my contributions to our section compared with those from my colleagues, which helped. I also made a list of the things I was hired to do with their current status, as well as additional things I had done since starting. When I emailed to request the meeting, I only mentioned a few of these, but I kept the master list ready for the actual sit-down.

The classic teaching is that a successful negotiation is one in which no one walks away happy. BATNAs will tell you that you need your bottom line before even starting the process. While I find some truth in these ideas, I think the reality for many of us is that we’re happy with our jobs; we just want to be paid fairly. In the end I have mixed feelings about these tips and tactics – there are probably some universal rules, but I also believe that individual personalities and power structures matter very much. For instance, I found it helpful to sit down with the Chair of Cardiology and the Chief of Medicine together at my institution; I think that worked well for us because we are a smaller hospital.

Ultimately, the one thing I did that was the most helpful in my salary re-negotiation was to have a mock conversation with my mentor. He asked me tough questions and stayed in character as I responded. I’m pretty sure that going through the same exercise with a friend would have resulted in a breakdown – but since he kept up the façade, I practiced the verbiage of my pitch, and I think because of that my ultimate delivery was stronger. We anticipated questions that would come my way, and I had good answers ready.

In the end, I’d say that re-negotiating my salary came down to (a) being confident in my requested range and (b) practicing, word-for-word, my delivery. I asked for a 10-15% increase, and the verbal feedback I got during my meeting was that this was a reasonable request. I am pleased to share that my new salary is indeed in that range, and now I feel I am being paid equitably for the work that I do.

Author: Lakshmi S. Tummala, MD, FACC

Lakshmi S. Tummala, MD, FACC

Lakshmi is a staff cardiologist at the DC VA Medical Center, and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Georgetown and George Washington Universities. She is passionate about women in medicine and excited to share her thoughts and experiences as she navigates the novel opportunities and accompanying challenges of an early career. Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are hers alone, and sharing resources does not equal endorsement.

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