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You Decide: Choose the Best Option for Your Career

Looking for your next dental job? Whether you have recently graduated from dental school or have a few years of experience, you have plenty of options.

According to the ADA Health Policy Institute, 64% of new dentists are working full time in private practice one year after graduation while 20% are completing residency/specialty programs. Even if you know you are looking at private practice, you have some options: do you want to work as an associate or own a practice?

Consider which arrangement suits your current needs and your future goals. Think about how you prefer to interact with patients, which skills you have (and want to develop), your ideal schedule and your tolerance for risk.

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  1. Associateship: As an associate, you are an employee of the practice. The practice owner sets your schedule, pays your salary and benefits, and retains final say over treatment decisions. Associateships can be a great way to build your skills, especially if you work with an owner willing to provide mentorship. You can focus on doing dentistry rather than the business of dentistry. An associateship also provides flexibility if you may need to relocate within a few years, as you would not have to sell a practice. Some dentists remain associates for their entire careers. No matter your plans, the key is finding the practice where you can thrive and feel satisfied. See: Read Beyond the Dollar Amount: How to Get the Contract You Deserve and How Associate Pay Can Vary

  2. DSO Associateships: Increasingly common Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) can make it relatively easy to find a job with good benefits. You can learn a lot in a DSO by focusing on dentistry and increasing your speed, though associates are often encouraged to refer some procedures to in-house specialists. Compensation can be lower than in private practice, but there are often financial incentives for high production. You may have minimal control over your schedule and choice of materials. DSOs can give you experience, mentorship and stability as you work towards your ultimate goals, either within the DSO or private practice.

  3. Associateship-to-ownership: If you would like to eventually own a practice but are not quite ready, you might consider an associateship-to-ownership path in which you gradually buy out a practice. Find an owner who is planning to retire within a few years and structure the agreement to suit your timeline and finances. Over time, expand your skills under the owner’s guidance while learning how to manage the business. This can be a great way to get into an established practice with a gradual transition that retains patients and staff. Read more about how to get mentorship while on a path to ownership

  4. Ownership: Traditional ownership is pretty straightforward. You own the practice and are responsible for making (or delegating) all the decisions. You are responsible for finding and retaining patients, hiring staff, and ensuring the office runs smoothly. You might even own the building. As the practice grows, you may expand your staff or space as you see fit – the sky is the limit as a sole owner! The decisions are yours, and so are the rewards. See: Build Your Dental Dream Home

  5. Independent contractor: As an independent contractor, you care for some of an owner dentist’s patients while operating your own business. You pay your own salary, benefits and taxes while managing your schedule, fees and treatment planning. (Note that the IRS has some very specific regulations governing independent contractors.) You also maintain control over treatment decisions. This route can let you build some business experience without tying you to a particular location – which can be helpful if you are uncertain about your long-term plans.

  6. Solo group: Two practices operate independently but share an office. That means you share the facility and common expenses, but not the risk or liability. You will come to an agreement with the other owner(s) on how to divide new patients who come without a referral. A solo group practice might be perfect if you want to run your own practice while sharing some costs.

  7. Partnership: Partners share ownership of the practice and patients. Partners also share decision-making, hours – and risk since all other doctors in the practice can be held liable if a claim is made against the practice. Partnership can be a path to full ownership; however, make sure that responsibilities and buy-out terms are spelled out in the partnership agreement.

No matter which option you choose, make sure you develop a contract that outlines everything you agreed to. Work with your own lawyer to review the contract and understand all the terms. Pay special attention to compensation and non–compete clauses to ensure that the written agreement accurately represents your expectations.

See also: What's Next: How to Plan for the Dental Career of Your Dreams

Your career is more than just a series of jobs. Choose the path that will help you reach your goals. ADA Practice Transitions can help you think through your options and find a practice where you can thrive. Get started today by creating your profile. And remember, there's no fee if you're an ADA member looking for your first job! 

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Topics: incoming dentist, associateship, purchase a practice


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