How to know if it’s really time to hire an associate dentist

Too much work in your dental practice? Believe an associate dentist will solve all your problems? Make sure about that before taking such a big step. Here are some tips to help determine if an associate would be good for your practice.

Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2016 08 Associate Dentist 1

Too much work in your dental practice? Believe an associate dentist will solve all your problems? Make sure about that before taking such a big step. Here are some tips to help determine if an associate would be good for your practice.

Hiring an associate is one of the most important career choices you’ll ever make. In fact, it is unlike any other practice hire, and it should not be entered into lightly. Remember, any associate you bring into your practice could become your partner, which makes it important for you to understand each other’s goals and to share the same practice philosophy.

But before you start looking for the perfect match, make sure you actually need an associate. Many dentists love the idea of hiring an associate to reduce their workload and relieve their stress. The problem is, if they don’t actually need an associate, bringing on someone else on will actually do more harm than good.

The truth is, just because you’re so busy you can barely keep up doesn’t mean you need another doctor. It could just mean your systems are a mess and it’s time to invest in fixing them. That’s right, neglected systems lead to chaos and often create the illusion that you have more patients than you can handle, while in reality your broken systems are wreaking havoc on your day and leading to undue stress.

Bringing another doctor into your practice is a big decision, one you want to make sure you get right from the beginning. Here’s how to not only make sure your practice actually needs a new associate, but also to ensure the arrangement is a success.

Determine if you have enough patients to support another dentist
This is important. Before you hire an associate, there must be no doubt that you have enough patients to keep you both busy, as well as to support two dentists and the practice. So, what’s the magic number? According to industry data, a healthy solo practice sees 25 new patients a month, with 85% of those patients accepting treatment. That means if you want to hire an associate, you need to attract between 30 and 35 new patients to your practice each month.

Know what to expect
The truth is, most of these arrangements simply don’t work out. Why? It usually comes down to unclear or mismatched needs and expectations. All too often hiring dentists see associates as extensions of themselves, and they expect them to fall in line and produce. While that might seem like the answer to your problems, chances are it’s not going to work out that way.

The fact is, new dentists aren’t just going to step in and fix your practice. That may be why you decided to hire an associate, but that isn’t why the person accepted the position. Associates are often young dentists with $250,000 or more in dental school debt. They’re looking to join a stable practice where they can gain experience and grow as clinicians. These dentists are eager to learn from you and be part of a well-trained team. They’d rather not walk into a chaotic practice that’s the result of broken systems the doctor isn’t fixing.

In this scenario, instead of diagnosing and treating patients, associates are forced to put out fires all day. Not only does that mean the new associate doesn’t learn much, it also means he or she isn’t doing much to help boost practice production or your bottom line—leaving you both unhappy with the situation.

Before bringing on an associate, I suggest you take a good look at your systems and make any necessary updates. It’s also important to communicate with potential associates about your expectations and goals to ensure you’re both on the same page.

Advice for retiring dentists
If you’ve decided to hire an associate because you’re planning to retire soon, this doesn’t mean it’s OK to start taking on only the cases you like and giving the less pleasant cases to the associate. It also doesn’t mean it’s time to start cutting back. Let’s say a dentist who plans to retire soon is bringing in about $850,000 a year. Now that he’s working less, he only brings in about $350,000, but he’s not worried because he fully expects his new associate to pick up the slack. When that doesn’t happen, this doctor has less revenue coming in but the same overhead expenses. This hurts both the senior doctor and the associate.

If you’ve decided to hire an associate, it’s important to take steps to ensure the arrangement will work. Start by making sure you actually need an associate, then take the time to find the right fit. If you need help getting started, remember that you don’t have to do this alone. I’m here to help. Feel free to contact me if you’d like more guidance.


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Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service, nationwide dental practice management company. Contact her at (877) 777-6151 or sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com.

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