Dental students may be
given a checklist and/or a list of specific questions to ask an owner-dentist
regarding associateships. These types of
resources tend to be geared for fairly detailed and targeted discussions and
negotiations (e.g., regarding compensation, benefits, patient assignment) AFTER an initial meeting or two
with the owner-dentist. Over the years, I've
been asked many times a more general question about how to approach an initial,
exploratory meeting with an owner-dentist about a possible associateship
opportunity. These meetings often
involve lunch or dinner, significant others, and tend to be on the informal
Following here are several
recommendations for participating in these types of initial meetings. Remember, if you are pursuing this engagement
through a consulting firm, the company may have its own protocol and/or process.
1. The most important task for you is to get a
sense of compatibility for practicing together, particularly as related to practice
philosophy and personality. Ask
open-ended questions such as, "Tell me about your practice philosophy…about
managing patients…about dental treatment…about staff management." As Dr. David Neumeister, a practitioner in Vermont advises, stay
curious, ask open-ended questions with an open mind and withhold judgment when
The goal here is for you to gain an understanding
of how the owner-dentist views practice, and then you have a better sense of
whether this is consistent with what you envision.
2. The second most important objective is to get
a sense of the vision the owner-dentist has for the associateship relationship
in the short and long term. Again, ask
open-ended questions such as "Where do you see the practice in two years?”
Or, “In five years, where do you see the practice?" "Describe the kind of relationship you
are hoping for with an associate," and, assuming this is a future interest
of yours, "How do you envision for a future buy-in/buy-out?”
The goal is for you to get a sense of the overlap
of your career goals with those of the owner-dentist.
3. In most cases, I would recommend that you NOT ask in this initial meeting
about compensation, benefits, patient assignment, or other specific issues
related to a future associateship contract.
These issues are usually reserved for future meetings. Also, the owner-dentist may already have a
contract in mind with these issues delineated.
4. Pay keen attention to the way you are treated
in the communication up to and including the initial meeting. Does the owner-dentist follow-up with you on
time or do you have to prompt him or her to follow through in scheduling the
meeting? These subtle but critical early
signs may point toward future problems.
5. Importantly, go with your intuition and that
of your significant other. If something
doesn't seem right, this may be your heart forecasting future problems that
would be better avoided than confronted.
6. Answer the owner-dentist's question in
honesty and completeness. Remember, he
or she is also trying to discover if you will be a good fit for the dental
7. Obviously, you should dress and act
Evaluating a possible
associateship can be an exciting time in the career of any dental
professional. By using the above
questions, and others that prompt candid discussion among you and the
owner-dentist, a dialogue that can ultimately translate to a win-win
opportunity for you both.
(Continued from page 1 )
Sources for Additional Reading
Dental Association. Associateships: A Guide for Owners and ProspectiveAssociates. Edition revised by Berning
R and Domer LR. Chicago, IL: American Dental Association, 2005.
Dental Association. Transitions: Navigating Sales, Associateships & Partnerships
in Your Dental Practice. Edition by Hill
R. Chicago, IL: American Dental
RS. About associateships. In: Dunning DG, Lange BM, eds. Dental Practice Transition: A Practical Guide
to Management. Hoboken, NJ:
- Dunning, DG. Walking with dental students through the
minefields of associateship opportunities.
Dent Hypoth 2011;2:83-86.
- Halley MC,
Lalumandier JA, Walker JD, Houston
JH. A regional survey of dentists' preferences for hiring a dental
associate. J Am Dent Assoc
E. Top ten reasons associateships
fail. Preview Fall 1999:12-17. A condensed version of this article was
published again in 2009 in a two part series at www.dental-tribune.com. The first part was accessed on July 31, 2009