Considering an associate?

July 1, 2003
Numerous reasons exist for inviting an associate into the practice:

Cathy Jameson, PhD

Numerous reasons exist for inviting an associate into the practice:

1 Too busy; can't see patients expediently.
2 Too hectic due to demand of new and existing patient flow. The owner wants to expand hours to care for the patients.
3 The senior doctor wants to focus on a particular type of treatment and needs an associate to provide other kinds of care.
4 The owner/doctor has a new child or expanding childcare requirements and decides to practice part-time.
5 The senior doctor wants to reduce the amount of time in the practice for health reasons, pending retirement, or just wants to cut back.
6 A desire for increased revenue.

However, the protocols by which this important position is created and filled may be inadequate, causing negative results:

• The wrong person may be hired.
• An inappropriate position responsibility may be developed. Or worse, there may be no position responsibility developed.
• An "expectation gap" may develop due to lack of clarity about requirements and responsibilities, including production, practice development, and financial rewards.
• A path of continuous improvement and expanded responsibilities may not have been outlined, so the associate will quickly seek a more fulfilling position.
• A carefully constructed plan for integrating the associate into the team and the community may not have been created.

If you are contemplating the creation of an associate position, ask yourself these questions:

• Is an associate appropriate for our practice?
• Are we prepared to nurture this position and this person?
• How do we select the right person?
• How would we promote an associate?
• What would the position requirements entail?
• How would we integrate the associate into the practice so that we would be assets to each other?
• Am I, as senior doctor, willing to invest time and attention in the mentorship of this new doctor?
• Can we nurture increased productivity (through time and money) so that the associate pays for him/herself and helps to increase the practice's profit?
• Am I willing to work out a win-win financial agreement?
• Am I willing to negotiate a contract with the help of attorneys so that we are legally situated before we begin?

The new doctor

Young doctors are anxious to get into a practice where they can grow. They want to work with a respectable, experienced senior doctor to further develop their clinical skills. They want to learn about the business of dentistry and nurture a career path where they can excel.

If they are not given a chance to develop, they will go to another practice or start their own. If you need an associate and do not want a more permanent relationship to evolve, then create a position, fill it, and maximize it, but don't be disappointed when the associate moves on to greener pastures. The position may become a permanent part of your practice, but the person may change from time to time.

You may decide to create a position where a doctor will come and stay. You may want to foster a relationship that could develop into something more permanent — a partnership and/or a future buy-out.

If you are considering an associate, spend quality time reviewing these questions. Careful planning will prove invaluable when the time comes to welcome the new doctor into your practice. Plan for success and it will be yours!

Cathy Jameson, PhD, is president of Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental lecture and consulting firm. She has been a featured speaker for the major dental meetings throughout the world and is an adjunct faculty member of the Oklahoma University School of Dentistry and an associate professor at the NYU College of Dentistry. Her books, Great Communication = Great Production and Collect What You Produce are top sellers for PennWell Books. Contact Dr. Jameson at (580) 369-5555, or email cathy@jamesonmanage

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