Associate Illusions: Wants vs. Realities
We all want to be wanted. Dentists want their patients to want their services. New dentists graduating from dental school want hiring doctors to want to hire them. Practice owners considering associates want prospects to recognize the value of joining their practices.
In some cases, the wants may be so great that they cloud the realities. Sure, the hiring doctor believes his practice is a great opportunity for a new dentist and hopes the young doctor recognizes that. However, he also wants the new associate to take on those procedures that he really doesn’t care for, so he can devote his time to other priorities. He’s also hoping that he can hand over some of the management responsibilities to the new associate. Frankly, he’s tired of the headaches and he’s hoping that the new doc will be a big draw for prospective new patients because new patient numbers just aren’t where they should be.
Conversely, the new associate really wants to work in a practice where she can have a mentor and teacher. She wants to be part of a practice team that is committed to excellence, where everyone is focused on doing the very best job and the patient always comes first. She doesn’t want a lot of pressure to make money right away. She knows that she needs to improve her hand speed and gain greater experience in certain procedures. She wants the opportunity to learn sound management practices from a seasoned expert.
He wants a cleanup crew, she wants a mentor and guide. Both need to be honest about their wants, or the reality is that this partnership will not serve either well. Doctors and prospective associates need to ask some tough questions to fully understand the other’s priorities and objectives. The associate needs to understand the doctor’s approach to patient care and management. What is the employer’s philosophy and approach toward treatment planning? Is it something the new dentist is comfortable with? What are the patient base realities? Is this a practice that is struggling or saturated?
Ideally, a new dentist joins a practice that is “saturated,” which means the patient base is comprised of 1,500 to 1,800 active patients. Those are the patients that visit the hygienist at least once a year. A major advantage of becoming an associate in a saturated practice is that oftentimes the patient records are teeming with diagnosed but unscheduled treatment. Additionally, it is common to find many patients overdue for their professional hygiene appointment, which provides an excellent opportunity for the new dentist to meet patients in the practice and begin building relationships with them.
What type of feedback can you expect from the hiring doctor? If the doctor wants to throw you into the deep end and see if you sink or swim, politely exit the interview and explore other opportunities. You want to be in an employer/employee situation in which you are meeting with the hiring doctor weekly for up to six months. These meetings provide the opportunity to discuss difficult cases, management concerns, patient concerns, and other topics essential to ensuring open and honest communication. Committing to weekly meetings is critically important in ensuring that both doctors are on the same page and potential concerns are addressed promptly.
Once each month, the senior doctor and the associate should review key practice indicators including production reports and accounts receivables. The associate needs to know that collections on her procedures are given the same priority as collections on the senior doctor’s accounts.
Certainly, there are situations in which, for whatever reason, the arrangement is not working. Now what? You want to leave on good terms. If you have a signed agreement, it likely states that there is a 30-60 day timeframe in which you inform the hiring doctor of your plans to leave. This enables you to complete cases that you’ve started, with the exception of orthodontics. While you may be eager to exit the arrangement promptly, don’t burn bridges, regardless of your personal feelings for the doctor and/or staff.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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