So, You Want an Associate?

You want to hire an associate for your practice, but not just any associate will do. Hiring an associate requires a certain amount of due diligence and consideration.

Before you go further, first ask yourself why you want an associate. Regardless of your answer, it’s important that you ask the right questions and analyze the responses. If you don’t, you might be covering up an issue rather than resolving one. You need to be sure that hiring an associate is the best solution for your practice.

When asked, “Why do you want an associate?” most doctors will typically answer that they are too busy. While it makes sense that a new associate will help alleviate the problem, being too busy can also be a symptom of other problems in the office. Issues such as poor scheduling, patient profile mistakes, treatment planning issues or poor payment systems can make the practice overly busy. If your internal office systems are not sound prior to adding an associate to the office, your problems will only be magnified.

Once you are sure of your need for an additional dentist to handle the case load and growth, there are other considerations before you proceed with hiring your new associate. In many cases, the size of an office precludes hiring another doctor. For a general practice, six equipped operatories (two for each doctor, two for hygiene) is the minimum, while probably inadequate when considering future growth.

Assuming the space is large enough, the next consideration is practice income. With current practice overheads averaging 60% – 65%, financial breathing room has shrunk. The practice must generate sufficient revenue to ensure that the new associate will get paid. Adding another dentist usually means an additional expense to the practice until the associate pays for him or herself. Further, an associate may require additional staff, which adds to overhead costs, even if just an extra assistant. And as overhead increases, your profit decreases.

A new associate will also need patients. If the practice is not seeing at least two new patients per day on average, the associate will need to take patients from the owner. To grow the associate, new patient flow must be much greater – how much depends on the size of the practice. To keep an associate busy for one day per week, expect to have approximately 200 unique patients for the associate. You also need to be able to transfer all types of cases to the new associate, not just simple procedures. Giving a new associate only simple cases is a good way to quickly become a stepping stone to another opportunity.

Done right, adding a new associate can be a great way to build your practice’s future, start the transition process and improve patient care. Bringing an associate on board requires thoughtful planning and due diligence. If an associate is the right solution for your needs, and you can ensure that you have the pre-requisite space and volume to support them, then it’s time to start your search.