Find an Associateship: 4 Things to Consider As You Prepare to Join a Dental Practice as an Associate

Successfully joining a practice as an associate involves a major commitment from both sides. The hiring dentist is investing in you and your skills, hoping that you will align with his or her practice vision. You are also investing your time and energy, in search of the practice situation that satisfies your career goals and expectations.  Do your homework to make sure that you know what you want, before you begin your search.

Here are a few things to think through as you begin your journey.

1. Big, small, urban, rural: What kind of practice do you want to join?

Do you prefer a busy urban practice, something in the suburbs, or a rural practice? Do you want a long-established practice, one that is expanding quickly, or one with room to grow? Would you prefer a large group practice where you might collaborate with several fellow dentists, or a more intimate small group practice?

What kind of pace do you prefer? One where you see more patients for less time, or fewer patients for longer periods? 

What is your preferred schedule? Do you want to work traditional hours, or are you open to evenings or weekends?

There is no “right” answer – rather, choose the one that will keep you engaged and satisfied while giving you the space to grow your skills. Take some time to envision what your ideal practice looks like. Write it down and use it as a guide to find a practice where you can be happy in the long run. Refer to this list throughout your search to keep yourself honest about your preferences. 

2. Negotiate compensation that fits your needs

Compensation agreements take many forms. You can always negotiate from the initial offer, but make sure you have what you need to live the lifestyle you want. 

First, would you prefer to be an employee or independent contractor? Each has its benefits and drawbacks, and some dentists may strongly prefer one or the other. 

Next, do you expected be compensated with a base salary, a base salary plus percentage, or a percentage of total production or collection? Discuss what each of these compensation models might look like with your potential employer to determine what is most advantageous for both sides. 

Which benefits are offered by your potential employer? Are these in line with other practices in the area? Will the practice cover your supplies, lab fees, or continuing education?  

Looking ahead, how might your compensation change over time? If you are interested in eventually taking a share of the ownership, what would that look like? Discuss this upfront to make sure you are on the same page. 

The ADA offers the helpful Dentist Employment Agreements: A Guide to Key Legal Provisions to help you evaluate your agreement.  

3. Prepare for career growth

What might your dental career look like in 5 years? In 10? Consider whether you want to go into a specialty or own your own practice, and look for a practice where you can grow the skills you will need – whether that means a mentoring relationship or the independence to pursue your goals.

If your eventual goal is practice ownership, look for opportunities to learn the business side of dentistry, like staff and financial management. Likewise, if you are joining a practice and plan to buy a stake at some point, which percentage of the practice – and the risk – are ideal? Again, discuss this during your interview. 

Remember, your search is your opportunity to find the practice that shares your vision. Invest the time to think about what you really want, and think through the questions you need to ask to find a good fit

4. Get the support you need

Finding the right practice takes time. ADA Practice Transitions will help you at every phase of the search, from identifying your philosophy of care and the best type of practice for your goals to helping you with the employment agreement and building a good working relationship with your new peers.  

When you work with ADA Practice Transitions, you will be assigned a dedicated advisor who can answer questions, offer guidance, and share the right resources. You will get worksheets, practical guides, and assessments that help you think things through. 


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