4 Steps to Position Your Dental Associate for Success

November 9, 2022

At a glance

  • The main takeaway: You may think you are ready to hire an associate to join your dental practice, but you may not have all your bases covered.
  • Impact on your practice: Before you take the leap and hire an associate, it’s important to clarify expectations, create a support system, and ensure mental, financial and practice readiness.
  • Next steps: Aprio’s National Dental Practice can provide the comprehensive guidance, resources and solutions you need to prepare and hire the right candidate for the job.

Schedule a consultation with Aprio today

The full story:

You will reach many milestones in your journey as a dental practice owner. Though the milestones will differ based on your years of practice and the stage of your business, a common thread among all of them is the importance of proactive, strategic planning.

Hiring an associate to join your practice is no different. There are several factors to consider before you introduce another professional to your team.

Here are the four most important steps to take before you kick-start the hiring process.

1. Assess your mindset and practice readiness

There are a few practice-specific indicators that may signal the need for an extra pair of hands. They include:

  • Patient saturation: If your schedule is so booked that you are pushing out patient appointments months in advance, then that is a clear sign you are ready to hire an associate to share the workload. Pushing out appointments puts you at risk of losing loyal, long-term patients, so it’s important to start the associate hiring and preparation process if you notice that trend happening in your schedule.
  • Work-life balance: If you are working unsustainable hours and feeling burned out, then you would likely benefit from the help of a qualified associate. Though short-term work-life balance is relevant and important to consider, it’s also critical to think about your future, as a practice owner. There will come a time when you may wish to retire from dentistry, or you are physically unable to practice for one reason or another. Having a transition plan in place years before you start considering your second act will ensure a smooth change-over in leadership for your associate, patients and employees.
  • Production numbers: If your production revenue is hitting a certain threshold (say, $1 million per year), then that is a good sign your practice could benefit from an associate. A qualified dental CPA can help you determine what production threshold warrants a new hire for your specific practice, in addition to making growth projections that can help you staff other gaps in the future.

Aside from these qualitative signs, mental readiness is also a crucial factor to consider when hiring an associate. You have grown your practice from the ground up, and naturally you may feel protective of your patients and work product. In the past, we have worked with dentists who need to cut back their hours due to work-life balance or other extenuating circumstances, but find it difficult to let go of control once an associate has joined the ranks and is ready to step in.

Therefore, it’s essential to have honest, open conversations with your trusted professional advisors, family members and other key stakeholders to ensure you are ready to take the next step — and most importantly, make the experience successful for your future associate, your patients and practice as a whole.

2. Assess your financial capabilities

Once you are confident in your mental and practice readiness, you must ensure your practice is financially ready to withstand the impact of hiring an associate. So, what does that mean? From a historical standpoint, practices often see a lull in revenue funds after an associate joins the team. This is due to the fact that you may have to ramp up your production to fill the associate’s workload and cover the extra overhead you are bringing into the practice. Few dental practice owners have the ability to produce enough to cover the addition of an associate right out of the gate.

Make sure that you are producing at a high-enough level to ensure that the lull in funds you experience is only temporary. For instance, if you are doing $500,000 in collections and you only have four patient chairs in your office, then you likely are not ready to hire an associate. You have to be in a place in which you can afford to bring on a new, full-time team member and ensure it makes sense. Work closely with your dental CPA to create a realistic production plan and goals to meet before you start the hiring process.

3. Clarify expectations

You are mentally ready to hire an associate, and your practice is financially ready to bring on a new team member. Next, sit down with your professional team and staff members (from your office manager to your dental assistant and hygienists) and clarify what you expect from your future associate.

For instance, are you looking for a long-term associateship that will produce the future successor of your dental practice? This arrangement looks vastly different compared to other types of short-term associateships. Not only will the individual who accepts the position move their livelihood and family to your community, but they will also have different expectations and goals to meet in terms of their work product.

Communication is the key to any successful work relationship, especially the one you foster with your future associate. Be honest, open and transparent about what you expect from the person who accepts the position, especially if you are hoping for an eventual transition to ownership. Asking critical questions upfront about role expectations and capabilities will save you a lot of conflict down the road.

4. Create the right environment

You need to have a support system in place before you even sit down to interview associates, much less extend a job offer. In our experience, we have seen owner/associate relationships fail because new hires don’t feel supported or nurtured during the early days of their associateship.

From the get-go, set up a program in which you pair your new associate with one of your best dental assistants, one who can show them the ropes during their first few months on the job. Consider including your dental assistants and hygienists in the interview process to help ensure a strong cultural fit. You’re not only looking for a qualified dentist who can do the job; you’re also looking for a professional who gets along personally with your staff and can continue providing the same caliber of care and service that patients have come to expect.

Once you do hire an associate, it’s also essential to have a solid, comprehensive plan for communicating the news to your patients so there are no surprises.

The bottom line

Though every transition has its challenges and complexities, a proactive plan can go a long toward making your associateship a success, especially in today’s saturated job market. Aprio’s National Dental Practice can provide the preparation support and guidance your practice needs to hire an associate, in addition to offering resources that can help you find the right candidate for the job.

If you are interested or ready to bring an associate on to your team, schedule a consultation with us today.

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