Hiring a Dental Associate - The Role of the Associate

Written by Heather Siler

Have you considered joining a practice as an associate dentist? Many clinicians prefer to accept a position in an established practice instead of having their own because of student loans, the expense of owning a practice, and the responsibility associated with being the owner. Following are some tips to help with your decision:

  • Consider all offers- There are often many associate opportunities available in the field of dentistry, and each should be reviewed Make a list of pro’s and con’s and trust your instincts. Take some time to observe the office you’re considering. While the interviews and introductions may be fantastic, seeing the way the office runs in a day to day setting is important.
  • Make meeting the team a priority- The dental team will be your support system, and it’s crucial that you meet each person and observe their You’ll also want to observe the behavior between the senior doctor and the team. Again, the interview can seem awesome, but you can tell a lot about a doctor and their team by the way they interact with patients and one another.
  • Never gossip or speak negatively about the senior dentist or the team- If you have a legitimate problem with a team member, it’s best to go to that person and resolve the issue. If you have an issue with the dentist/owner, sit down with them and hash it out. Be honest and direct, and never get defensive. If the doctor gets defensive, alter your approach and make sure you’re handling the situation properly.
  • Diagnosing will most likely be tricky- diagnosing for some practices goes one of two ways. Under-diagnosing is a real problem, and you may find yourself in an office where periodontal disease isn’t diagnosed or treated, decay isn’t dealt with until it’s advanced, and the equipment isn’t the latest and greatest. You may not even realize it’s happening at first, but it’s not a lost cause. The practice may need an overhaul, and you’ll need to decide whether it’s worth staying. Over-diagnosing is the opposite end of the spectrum. You may begin working in an office where you’re expected to suggest treatment plans that aren’t entirely necessary or procedures based on cosmetic versus restorative needs. This type of practice rarely changes, so you may have to keep looking. Staying in either situation without improvement is detrimental to your career. There are plenty of offices that fall somewhere in the middle and deliver excellent care without practicing supervised neglect or unethical dentistry.
  • Be prepared to ask for what you need (within reason)- You may have had state-of-the-art equipment at your last practice or in school, but your new office equipment may be less than ideal. You’ll have to take into consideration the age of the practice and the location. Rural settings may not have the most up-to-date equipment and instruments, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve excellent results. If the equipment is truly unusable, you may need to have a heart-to-heart with the senior dentist. Most likely, they are fully aware of the necessary Approach this situation by being honest, non-threatening, and ready to discuss how specific improvements will increase doctor/team satisfaction, patient comfort, and production.
  • Have a signed contract in place- never accept a position without a contract that you and your attorney have read and understand. If you make counter offers or changes, ensure that they’re in the contract before signing. A signed document protects all parties and outlines all aspects of your role in the practice.
  • Beware the “sink or swim” office- in some practices, you may be thrown into the water and left to sink or swim. Whether you’re an experienced doctor or not, you must have support and encouragement. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for what you require to succeed and become an asset to the office.

Choosing the best fit for you will take some investigation. If an office is pressuring you to decide after a short period, it’s probably best to keep looking. Don’t get discouraged because the perfect setting for you is out there, and you’ll be glad you took the time to find a practice in line with your goals and standards.