The dental associate
William P. Prescott, Esq., EMBA
WHILE THE PROVISIONS of any associate contract are important, it is crucial to
consider other factors before the contract is drafted.
FOR PRACTICE OWNERS
Determine why you believe an associate is needed for
your practice. Is it to locate your successor, to resolve
demand, or both? If you plan to hire for succession purposes, first determine your best exit choice and how an
associate fits in, if at all.
Don’t be afraid to dream about your ideal practice. Develop
your vision so you can ultimately get to where you want
to go. As an associate, should you choose private or corporate? Full time or part time? Future ownership or per-
manent association? What do you want in light of the
opportunities available in the geographic area you choose?
Even if you accept a less-than-ideal position due to
limited opportunities, never lose sight of your vision.
Otherwise, you will not be happy in your profession.
Once the decision is made to proceed, here are the
areas to consider prior to the employment contract.
ASSOCIATE NEEDS ANALYSIS
Practice owners should consider completing an associate
needs analysis with the help of a CPA or other advisor to
determine whether the practice can afford an associate.
Questions to be answered include the following: What is
the percentage of collections available for the associate’s
compensation? Can the existing facility support the as-
sociate to allow more than one doctor to work comfortably
and effectively? What impact will hiring an associate have
on the practice owner’s productivity?
An associate needs analysis also delineates the collec-
tions required by the associate to break even, inclusive of
a 10%–15% administrative profit. If all variable costs are
covered and the associate contributes to fixed costs that
the practice will incur with or without the associate, it is
economically sound to make the hire.
FULL TIME VERSUS PART TIME
While there are always exceptions, I have never been a
proponent of part-time employment for dentists, special-
ists, or even professionals outside of dentistry. In my experience, part-time relationships rarely succeed.
A common mistake is hiring an associate for one or
two days per week, thinking that the associate will build
a practice within the owner’s practice. It won’t happen!
Even if the associate does grow the practice, he or she
will not easily agree to purchase the goodwill attributable
to the growth, absent a clear understanding and written
agreement to do so at the commencement of associate
An exception to full time is when an associate is attempting to locate his or her ideal practice while working
in a less-than-ideal situation. In such cases, the associate
should negotiate the ability to reduce time in the existing
practice if he or she plans to work elsewhere or establish
a practice. My observation of young dentists who establish
practices is that they often do so after being frustrated
with about three failed associate positions.
ASSOCIATE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Quality long-term working relationships are not attained
by accident; they are designed. By asking the appropriate
questions, the risk of a failed relationship is minimized. I
typically use 20 categories of interview questions that are
designed to assist both the owner and associate to discuss
and assess whether the associateship will work. It is beneficial for interview questions to be prepared in advance.
This is part two of
a two-part series.
Part one appeared in