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Should You Hire a Dental Associate

Imagine this… both of your hygienists need an exam at the same time. Your team squeezed in an emergency over lunch after squeezing in two in the morning and the Class 2 “ring thing-y” just flew across the room and is pinging around on the floor. You start thinking to yourself… I need help or else I am going to move into the middle of the woods and live with the forest creatures.  Maybe I can do implant overdentures on turtles. Do turtles have good dental insurance?  You are snapped out of your daydream by your hygienists giving you a painfully strong eye roll that says “if you DO NOT get to my exam soon, I am going to sprain one of my eyes.”  You don’t need to move into the middle of the woods, you need an associate… or do you?

Hiring a dental associate to share in the joys of “full contact dental arts and crafts” sounds awesome, but it can also be awful. Why?  Because some practice owners tend to hire an associate REACTIVELY due to stress, instead of PROACTIVELY due to a well-thought-out business treatment plan for the practice.

I want to share 3 Questions you should ask yourself as a solo dentist practice owner BEFORE hiring an associate… 

Question #1

“Mirror mirror on my operatory wall that no one has cleaned recently . . . if I hire an associate, am I okay with making less money for the first year of the associate working in my practice?”

If the answer is NO, stop and don’t hire an associate. The reason a practice owner will make less money when hiring an associate is that the practice owner looking to hire an associate is dentisting at max capacity and may be very stressed, but is likely very profitable.  When you hire an associate, you are going to share your production with that patient and do less dentistry and make less money. For some dentists, they are totally cool with making less money if they can do fewer Class 2s. Some dentists cannot make less money because they have to send multiple children to college and make their next boat payment on a boat they named after the Krebs cycle.
If your answer is, YES… I am cool with making less money, then move on to question number 2.

Question #2

 “Do I want to mentor and manage another dentist during my daily dental day?”

If your answer is NO, this will never work.  Don’t hire an associate.  An associate dentist may be super competent clinically, but they have never worked with your team, your materials, your operatory stool, your patients, your delivery unit that sometimes needs a few taps on the right side to get going . . . think of it like cooking a meal in someone else’s kitchen.  The associate may know how to cook, but the associate will need a lot of questions answered along the way.  This requires a special energy on your part as a practice owner. I happen to enjoy this part of having an associate, but you know you. If this is not you, don’t hire an associate. Also, your associate may be very enthusiastic, but very inexperienced clinically and clinical mentorship is a normal and necessary part of the process.  

Question #3

“Do I want to share my patient relationships and team with another dentist?”

If the answer is NO, don’t hire an associate.  If the answer is YES, awesome! Your patients and team will hear another “dentist voice” in their treatment planning and practice management life.  That is one of my favorite parts of the process, but it can cause clinical and practice management confusion. 

These are 3 conceptual questions to ask yourself BEFORE hiring an associate. I will break down the numbers, the profit, the EBITDA (a great name for your second boat) and systems for success in future articles.  For now, the numbers do not matter if you cannot answer YES to the first 3 questions. Thank you for reading and I would love to read some of your comments, questions and other good names for boats!