Hire for Today, Mentor for the Future: Finding the Perfect Associate

By Suzanne Ebert, DMD

Bringing in an associate can be intimidating. You’ve built your practice’s reputation on a certain style of care and may have known some of your patients for decades. You want to know that Mrs. Smith will get the same quality and level of care she’s come to expect, regardless of which dentist she sees in your office.

So what makes an associate “right” for your practice and patients? 

Every week at ADA Practice Transitions (ADAPT), I speak with owners looking to hire an associate or sell their practice. Many insist that any associate coming to work for them must have at least two to five years’ experience. Too often, this means that they refuse to even consider a dentist who would otherwise be a perfect fit.

At ADAPT, we strive to connect doctors who can work well together and respect each others’ professional decision-making. While experience is important, skills can ultimately be trained. Underlying personality traits cannot.

Sometimes it’s best to hire someone who has the right attitude, approach and personality for your practice, then help them gain experience under your tutelage.

Let’s explore why a doctor with a little less experience can be a great asset to your practice. 

Train them to your best practices

Recently graduated doctors often come with a clean slate. They haven’t learned any bad habits and are typically laser-focused on achieving perfection.

Meanwhile, you have spent decades developing your own best practices. You know exactly what to do when conditions dictate that a crown margin must be placed in a somewhat “less than ideal” location, a canal is blocked out or a tooth is broken off at the gingival level. Young professionals crave opportunities to learn these things from an experienced doctor, and you can mold them to your best practices. Yes, they may initially take longer, but patience will pay off. And watching someone grow into their career — and themselves — can be incredibly rewarding.

Get up-to-date about the latest evidence and technology

Even the most diligent doctor has limited time for continuing education.

A recent graduate who has devoted the last four years to learning best practices and studying the research can help you stay current on providing evidence-based care and understanding new technologies.

Support independent dentistry

While 86% of graduating dental students say they want to own their own practice within 10 years, many turn to dental support organizations (DSOs) for their first dental jobs. Some owners bemoan this fact, stating that the training early-career professionals receive in DSOs is not ideal for developing the clinical skills owners value. Even so, many of these same owners refuse to hire anyone with less than five years of experience.

This begs the question: Where do owners expect new graduates to gain that initial experience?

The reality is that DSOs are generally eager to hire new graduates. DSOs can be a fantastic place for young dentists to build their skills while earning a steady paycheck. Owners need to either embrace this model or take matters into their own hands and hire (and train) a recent grad to their specifications.

Young dentists have to get hands-on experience somewhere. Why not in your practice?

Gain a new perspective — and revenue

A new dentist can provide an outsider’s perspective and fresh energy that may enable you to grow the practice. They might offer a treatment you currently refer out, or be able to take over some of the “bread and butter” dentistry to free up your time for more complicated treatments.

Be sure to discuss your intentions with any prospective hire to ensure you’re on the same page.

Plan ahead for your own retirement

Many dentists plan a long, gradual path to retirement. I help some create an “associate-to-owner” pathway, in which both sides agree to a timeline during which the senior dentist sells the practice to the junior dentist.

Other owners find themselves scrambling to sell after an injury or illness. Too often, this leads to practice closures.

Hiring an associate helps future-proof your practice as you’ll already have an in-house dentist who can provide continuity of care to your patients.

Think of hiring as a long-term endeavor. Seek the right person to work with your staff and care for your patients for years to come, rather than seeking someone with a preconceived amount of experience.

To create a free ADA Practice Transitions profile and be matched with dentists who share your approach, visit adapracticetransitions.com

Reprinted from Today’s FDA 2022 May/June issue. Visit floridadental.org/publications to view Today’s FDA archives.

Today’s FDA is Available to Read Online NOW!

The May/June 2022 issue of Today’s FDA is available online for FDA members NOW! Check it out for great articles about the Florida Dental Convention (FDC) and what to know before you go, artificial intelligence (AI) in today’s dentistry and, of course, special edition FDC speaker previews. So, what are you waiting for? Head to floridadental.org/publications or just click the cover image below to read the issue.