Associates: Pros and Cons

May 4, 2010
There are very few areas in America where the senior dentist cannot accommodate all of his or her patients in today's economy. Consider the pros and cons of hiring an associate carefully.

by Bill Blatchford, DDS

In days gone by, many viewed having an associate as a statement to the community that the senior doctor was so busy, he could not accommodate all the demands of his busy practice. There are very few areas in America where this is true today, and besides, times have changed.

Very few of today's recent dental graduates are able to find a dentist who cannot do all the work available themselves. Having an associate today is a numbers game. If the new associate is not bringing any patients with him/her, the senior doctor needs to ask, “How much of my net am I willing to give up to have an associate here?” What is my purpose in having an associate? Do the numbers make sense for me? How will this help me?

Some dentists have a picture of wanting to find a younger dentist to purchase their practice via an associateship. They want to try someone out and see if that person is a partnership fit. Always in the back of the senior dentist’s mind is, “I will stay around for another five years to mentor the young dentist.” The hidden message (probably not even acknowledged by the senior doctor ) is, “I am neither ready financially or emotionally to retire.”

There is nothing wrong with that statement. Dentistry is a marvelous profession for feeling needed, exhibiting passion for clinical dentistry, and furnishing an envious net return. For five years, the plan for the associate is what? Graduating with a debt of $200,000 adds pressure. New graduates want a more solid plan. They have their own concerns. Am I wasting my time? Will the senior doctor ever sell to me? What will be the terms of the sale?

Today, practice brokers handle sales. You do not need to find someone to purchase your practice. A clean sale is when the check clears the bank and the senior doctor is gone!

As the senior dentist, you may have some treatments you no longer want to do. Rather than hiring an associate, consider finding several new dentists in town who would be thrilled to have your single crowns, fillings, or dentures. New specialists would also love your endo, perio, or implants. Another idea is to hire a young dentist from another town to work one day a week or two days a month doing those treatments you no longer enjoy. Compensation, conduct, types of treatment, and noncompete agreements are all communicated and agreed to in advance.

If you are interested in this internship contract, contact our office ([email protected]) to have one e-mailed to you.

Dr. Blatchford’s book, “Blatchford BLUEPRINTS — the Art of Creating Practice Success,” is available at for $39. Profits go to the Juvenile Diabetic Research Foundation. For more information, visit