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Thinking About Becoming an Associate? Here’s What You Should Know
By Sally McKenzie, CEO

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Joining a practice as an associate offers young dentists a lot of opportunity for growth. As an associate, dentists have the chance to learn from an experienced clinician while enhancing their skills and preparing for a long, rewarding career in dentistry.

Yes, it can be exciting to join a practice as an associate, but it’s important to make sure the practice you choose is a good fit.

You’re probably thinking, “That makes sense Sally, but what questions should I be asking?” Not to worry. I’m here to help, and have put together a few questions every associate should ask before joining a practice:

Is the practice saturated or struggling?
Becoming part of a struggling practice won’t do you much good, so look for practices that are saturated. What does that mean? The practice should have a base of between 1,500 and 1,800 active patients who visit the hygienist at least once a year. With that many patients, there’s a good chance many of them have unscheduled treatment, giving you the opportunity to take on a variety of cases. This helps give you the experience you crave while also boosting the practice’s production – and that’s a good scenario for both you and the senior dentist.

In a saturated practice, you’ll also likely find a good number of patients who are overdue for their professional hygiene appointment. I suggest you meet and make an effort to start building relationships with these patients. Get them back in the chair and talk with them about their oral health goals and how you can help them meet those goals. They’ll get the care they need while you gain experience and contribute to practice growth.

How do you approach treatment planning?
This is actually pretty important. If you sign on with a practice that has a philosophy or care that you’re not comfortable with, it could lead to conflict and an overall bad experience for everyone involved.

To avoid this, I suggest you talk with the senior dentist about his or her approach to patient care and treatment planning. Find out if there’s a Treatment Coordinator or if producers are expected to handle their own case presentations. Ask about the case acceptance rate and how patient education is presented in the practice. Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll have a pretty good idea if the practice is a good fit for you or if it’s better to move on.

What type of guidance and feedback will you offer?
Remember, this is a learning experience for you. You want to find a dentist who is willing to serve as a teacher and a mentor during your time at the practice, not someone who expects you to put out fires all day and fix everything that’s wrong in the office. That just isn’t realistic, or fair to you. For you and the hiring dentist to get the most out of the arrangement, it’s critical that you receive guidance from the very beginning as well as continual feedback.

It’s a good idea to schedule a standing weekly meeting with the senior dentist for the first six months. Use these meetings as an opportunity to learn. Talk about difficult cases and any management concerns you have. Trust me, this is a great way to keep communication open and address any issues that come up before they turn into major problems. You’ll also know exactly how you’re progressing, including where you’re excelling and where you might need to make some improvements.

I also suggest you and the hiring doctor meet once a month to review key practice indicators, including accounts receivables and production reports.

What if this doesn’t work out?
The reality is, these relationships often fail for one reason or another. Doing your research, asking the right questions before you join a practice and committing to open communication with the hiring doc will certainly up your odds of success, but there are still no guarantees. While you might not like to think about the arrangement breaking down, you should have a plan in place in case it does. That means making sure the agreement you sign includes a timeframe for leaving the practice, which is usually 30 to 60 days after you tell the practice owner you plan to move on. This gives you enough time to complete most of the cases you’ve started.

Just remember: No matter what happens or why you decide it’s time to go, it’s important to leave on good terms. This is not the time to burn bridges.

There are many benefits to joining a practice as an associate, and with the right research and preparation, it can be a rewarding experience for both you and the hiring dentist. Keep in mind this is an important stepping stone for you, and not just any opportunity will do. Take the time to find the right fit and you’ll be well on your way to a rewarding career.

For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side

Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com
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