Dental and Medical Counsel Blog

Things Dentists Look for in Prospective Dental Associateships

June 16, 2022
dental dentist teeth

You just graduated and wonder, “ What to do after dental school?” You may decide to look for an associateship. At Dental & Medical Counsel, we have some suggestions for you to help you decide if an associateship will work for you and if so, we can help you with reviewing dental associateship contracts to be sure the position you choose will be the one that best meets your needs.

Begin by Writing Down Your Personal and Dental Practice Goals

Don’t begin your search blind. Write down your expectations and your short and long-term goals. Include what your expectations are for both your personal and professional life. Some considerations you should have in your written plan include:

  • Where do you want to live? Do you need to be near your family or your spouse’s family? Do you want to live in a city or are you interested in living in the country?
  • If you want to find an associateship that gives you the opportunity to buy into the practice in the future.
  • What responsibilities do you want? Do you want to be involved in the management and business side of the practice? Or do you just want to show up and do your dental work and go home at the end of the day?

Be sure to discuss your goals with your prospective dentist employer. If your goals are not compatible, the associateship will not work out. For example, if your goal is to buy into the practice in the future, and the dentist offering the associateship has no intention of selling it, you need to find that out before proceeding further and wasting any more time.

Other Important Questions to Ask Before Signing the Contract

Once you have found an established dentist who is looking for an associate, and you have determined it meets some of your goals, before signing the contract, some questions you need to ask include the following.

Why are you hiring? Is the practice growing? Is the dentist so busy he/she needs help? Will there be a need to hire additional staff? Or is the dentist tired, thinking of retiring, and scaling back his/her own hours? If so, will you both be working in the office at the same time, or will hours be staggered? Is the owner planning on selling the practice soon? Down the road in a few years? If so, can you have a buy-in option?

Can the practice accommodate an associate? Is there space for you? How many operatories will be available for you? Are there enough patients so that you will keep busy? Will you have a full schedule or are you expected to market yourself and build your own following? Ask to see the schedules from the past few weeks. See how much time was allotted to each patient and what procedures were performed.

Is there a plan to recruit new patients? If not, is that because the practice is already too busy and that is why you are being hired? If yes, how will the new patients be divided up? Is the plan to expand the hours or bring in another associate?

What is the owner’s long-term plan? Is the owner expanding his practice to a level that another associate will be needed in the future? Is the owner headed toward retirement and hoping you will take over the practice?

How you will be paid. Will you be paid a regular salary based on the work you performed or on the collections for the work you did? If you get paid on collections, ensure the practice has a strong collection policy and a 98 percent collection rate. This may also depend on the insurance the practice accepts. You don’t want to be assigned all the PPO patients and be paid on collections if collections from those PPOs are low and the amount they pay is discounted.

What are the benefits? Is there a good healthcare package? What is the retirement plan? Does the practice provide disability insurance? What about an allowance for CE credits?

Bonuses. Are there any bonuses linked to the signing of a contract or starting to work on a specific date?

Is the owner willing to be a mentor? If you want to learn new skills or specialize in a particular area of dentistry, is the owner willing to mentor you so you can hone those skills?

Can you “shadow” the dentist to see if you are a good fit? The best way for both of you to determine if working together suits you is if you can spend at least half a day together to see how the office flows, how the dentist interacts with patients and staff, and see if this is compatible with your own style. Review some cases together. Look at x-rays and see if you have the same approach to care plans.

Carefully Review the Dental Associate Contract

Having a clear and precise written contract can prevent unfortunate and unpleasant surprises later. For example, the following terms, if part of the package you have discussed, must be included in the written contract.

  • Start date.
  • Is there any payback required if you leave the practice before a certain date? For example, if there was a signing bonus, how long do you have to stay with the practice before you do not have to pay it back.
  • Is there a non-compete clause?
  • How will you be paid? Collections versus performance?
  • How will responsibilities be divided?
  • Which patients will you see? For example, will you be doing primarily or exclusively general dental work or will you work as much as possible in one specialty area, such as with implants.

If you plan on buying into the practice down the road, the contract should also include:

  • How long before this will be an option for you?
  • How will the purchase price be determined?
  • What contingencies may result in the agreement being voided with no penalties imposed? (Death? Disability?)
  • Any penalties that may be incurred for any reason.

Contact us at Dental & Medical Counsel for Assistance Before Signing Your First Contract as a Dental Associate

Our attorneys at Dental & Medical Counsel will review your employment contract and negotiate terms that are in your best interest. Contact our dental attorneys to schedule a free consultation.

Get in touch with us for a complimentary Consultation

At Dental & Medical Counsel, PC, we understand dentists have trouble navigating the legal process. We believe every dentist deserves the best advice and service so doctors can do what they do best, treat their patients. We make dentists' lives easier by providing expert guidance, so they can focus on their personal and professional aspirations.


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