Five keys to finding the perfect associateship

By | August 31, 2020

I traveled a lot after graduating dental school. As a result, I’ve had three different associateships. Starting out as an associate after dental school provides a wonderful opportunity to observe, learn and grow. Additionally, if you are able to associate at more than one practice, you quickly learn how different clinics function. Few operational aspects become apparent within days whereas others are noticeable only with time.

Photo of Dr. Deshpande

Dr. Deshpande

Here are a few things that make any practice a special place to work at:

1. It is not about the money.

Find a clinic where the morning huddles are conversations about patients as people rather than as production values. The sad truth is that because we are a small business with a high overhead, it is easy to focus on finances. Afterall, it is an important aspect of our livelihoods.

However, a practice that values the people that come in is automatically valued by its patients too. Such practices will always do well in the long run, even after a shutdown caused by a pandemic.

2. Practices that are system dependent.

If someone has to miss a day of work (life happens), the remaining team should be ready and willing to take on the missing person’s role. If the goal of the practice is to provide superior patient care, this will be an immediate consequence. Well-designed hiring manuals, cross training exercises, shadowing opportunities and role-playing activities should be provided to every employee, even the dentist. There should also be a system in place for educational opportunities so that everyone is constantly learning.

Systematizing helps create a cohesive team. Contrary to popular belief, not all corporate offices are well systematized and not all private offices are completely people dependent.

3. Team members that support each other.

One of the most important decisions a dentist can make is to hire the right people for the right job. We do not learn this critical skill in dental school, despite of it being a fundamental aspect of our careers as small business owners. Putting together a team that values one another and supports each other, is indispensable.

The best dentists prioritize refining their leadership skills, and work diligently towards building great relationships with family, friends, team members and patients. Apart from dental continuing education, they frequently invest in books, mentors, business seminars and quiet reflection.

4. Communication skills.

All of us are always striving towards clinical excellence, yet, seeing failures is not uncommon. It is inevitable and only human. If you associate for a dentist that communicates failures and mistakes with honesty to his/her patients, you have before you a great role model to learn from. You can learn from this dentists’ integrity and model your behavior after him or her.

Witnessing healthy communication with patients strengthens trust within the team as well. Team members buy into the dentist’ vision and begin to feel good about what they do.

5. The team can handle being busy.

In a PPO-dependent office, teams of single doctor-hygienists typically see 10-15 patients a day. If the team is well trained, hired right, and is committed to delivering great patient care, team mates will thrive in a busy environment. You will rarely hear them complain about workload or rejoice when patient’s no-show or cancel last minute. A lot of this is because they are aware of their true pay, understand overhead, and want the office to succeed just as much as their leader does.

Is it possible to find such an office? Yes, of course it is. If you aren’t in an office like this right now but see the potential to get it there, talk to your owner dentist and ask them you want to help. Learning leadership and business skills from senior dentists and mentors is invaluable, especially if you want to own your very own practice one day.

Dr. Sampada Deshpande is a general dentist based in Seattle. A foreign trained dentist from India, Sampada earned her DDS from the University of Washington in 2018, where she is also a current LEND trainee. Outside of clinical dentistry, she enjoys hosting the New Dentist Business Study Club, going on hikes with her husband, and reading books on Finance & Management. You can reach her directly at @dr.deshpande on Instagram or visit her website for more information.

10 thoughts on “Five keys to finding the perfect associateship

  1. Flavio Dalto

    “Find a clinic where the morning huddles are conversations about patients as people rather than as production values.” Been there, done that.

    1. Sarah Baldwin

      This is a great article! I truly believe everything you spoke about we practice at my office. Took years to accomplish with the right team but it’s there now!

    2. Janet Rice, DDS

      All conversations should be people not profits. Communicating to staff that we care about our patients as individuals and to put their needs and wants before our own, is my top priority. I have practiced 35 years insurance free and the way I have accomplished that Is to always think and communicate this premise. Even when it looks like I may not have enough patients on my schedule, I never “find” work or “sell“ dentistry. Believe me… people feel and smell your desperation ( or worse, your dishonesty) and will not buy. This is THE most important concept! I would LOVE to find a young dentist who believes like I do.

  2. Barry Matza

    Very good advice. I’ve been a Craniofacial orthodontist for 40 years and feel I still make a difference. Today the emphasis is on marketing and the business. We all want to make a good living. Dentistry can do that. To be a good healer takes a commitment to caring which, in the end, after food shelter and health, is much more rewarding


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