Transition Tales: Navigating a Path to Ownership

Posted by Bree Simmers on 9/10/19 9:05 AM
Bree Simmers


This is part of the Transition Tales & Truths series in which we discuss practice transitions with real dentists currently in the process.

Meet Dr. Joe. He’s a year out of dental school, working in a DSO in a new-to-him city. He grew up on a farm and watched his parents run their own business – and has always wanted to do likewise.

Dr. Joe’s first year of practice has given him real-world experience by letting him focus on dentistry. Working in a DSO has exposed him to a variety of staff characteristics and helped him crystallize what his ideal team might look like.

However, it has also made him realize that he wants to work in a practice where he can set the pace. “I love having that extra five minutes to chat with a patient,” he says, noting, “I like being busy, but not to the point that I can’t make a personal connection.”

Time to buy?

With more experience under his belt, Dr. Joe now feels ready to buy a dental practice.

Now he must wrestle with whether he wants to purchase an existing practice or build one from scratch. There are clear benefits to purchasing a practice, namely more reliable cash flow and an existing patient base. But first, he has to find the right practice.

Dr. Joe is facing a couple of key challenges. First, he signed a restrictive covenant with his current DSO that includes a 7-mile non-compete clause. Most importantly, he must find a location that not only satisfies him but can feel like home for his wife and young child.

“Philosophy is really important to a successful fit." - Dr. Joe

ADA Practice Transitions to find the right fit

“Philosophy is really important to a successful fit,” Dr. Joe says. He’s committed to finding a practice with a similar philosophy BEFORE entering the transactional stage of the process.

That’s why he came to ADA Practice Transitions.

“ADAPT seems really focused on finding the right person and then making the transaction happen versus making the transaction happen and hoping it’s the right person.”   

Surprises so far

Dr. Joe signed a 3-year contract with his DSO, which is pretty typical. However, he was surprised to find himself itching for a change just six months in. He urges other dentists to seriously consider contract length before signing.

He also didn’t conceptualize how much the restrictive covenant would affect his career options. By signing a 7-year non-compete in a relatively rural area, he has excluded himself from buying a practice in the very town he has come to love, severely limiting his options. He may have to leave the area entirely to find a suitable practice not bound by the non-compete. (Learn how to negotiate a restrictive covenant that's less restrictive.)

Finally, his year of experience has really emphasized just how important atmosphere and culture are to a successful practice. Dr. Joe has worked with a variety of people and now has a much better idea of what he wants the culture of his eventual practice to look like, whether he finds a practice with that culture or creates one of his own.

Advice to other dentists

Dr. Joe offers advice for other dentists starting their careers.

First, he suggests young dentists think about their long-term goals – whether ownership, partnership, associateship, or a combination – and use that vision as a guiding force. Doing so can help you pursue certain skills or experiences. For example, since Dr. Joe wants to own a practice, he has invested time in learning the business of dentistry. At the same time, he recommends keeping an open mind. The right opportunity may appear in a form that you had not considered.

"Don't take your first job in a city where you want to put down roots." - Dr. Joe

Second, after falling for a city in which he has a restrictive covenant, Dr. Joe recommends not taking your first job in a city where you want to put down roots. For example, if you want to eventually end up in a certain city – perhaps where you have family or enjoy the amenities and cultural offerings – eliminate that city from your initial job search. In the long run, it is far better to work three years in another city (even one nearby) so that you can choose a “forever” practice and home in your preferred town.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Dr. Joe urges dentists to think about the implications of their career path for their entire family. He leans on his wife’s opinions and ideas to help keep him grounded. We will explore the role of family in a practice transition in our next Transition Tales & Truths post: Why Practice Transitions Should Be a Family Affair

Need help charting your path? ADA Practice Transitions can help you think through your short- and long-term goals. Start your profile today!

Topics: incoming dentist, owner, looking for a job, associateship, purchase a practice, transition tales


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