In acquiring new dental instruments, how to influence decision-making as an associate

Recently I was at an engagement party for one of my good friends from dental school. Naturally there were a handful of us at the party who were all dentists. When new dentists sit in a room together, it’s hard to not talk about dentistry and compare experiences. A common theme among the group was the idea that as an associate, it’s difficult to have much of a voice in materials and instruments used in the office. One of my friends doesn’t even have adequate suction in an office he works in, and another asked to order instruments and was told he can use what’s in the office. My experience hasn’t been far from each of theirs.

Dr. Sowa

Dr. Sowa

How do you influence decision-making in an office when you have no capital invested in the practice? How do you ask for something new to be added to your office when other dentists may not use it?

Though I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer to this, I’ve asked a few colleagues how they handle this somewhat awkward situation.

  1. Try other methods before you write them off. In dental school, we sometimes have the luxury of using the best materials since they’re bought in large quantities and probably at a huge discount. We get an instrument cassette with every instrument imaginable to learn different techniques. At my school, we were taught to use microscopes during endodontic procedures even though many of us will always work in a practice that has no need for one. All of these luxuries can make us seem like spoiled associates to older generations who have really invested time and money into their practice. Before you immediately ask for all of what you used in dental school, ask questions and try out the instruments and techniques available in your office. You may learn something that was not taught in school that is better for you and the patient. In my experience, I’ve learned that I really don’t need a thousand instruments for my composite fillings.
  1. Do your research. A great way to implement new products into your practice is to have every doctor test the products. In addition to testing the products, provide your boss with research that relates to your specific practice setting. Contact reps to provide learning sessions on the products you’re interested in. In my practice, Dr. Kenneth Pagel and I attended a study club CE course on oral cancer. We learned of a new discovery tool to enhance oral cancer screenings. It seemed like a no-brainer to implement this product in our practice, but my student loan burden definitely can’t afford this instrument. I stated my case to the practice owner and how I felt it was important to offer more extensive oral cancer screenings to our patient population. A few weeks and a visit from the company later, our practice now utilizes this product on a daily basis.
  1. Don’t get discouraged if your request is denied. Perhaps your research was insufficient. Maybe there are more important aspects to the business you can’t understand as an associate. Ask the dentist you work for if there are any specific questions he or she has about the product and if there is any more research that can be done. If you’re working for a large corporate practice, a classmate tells me the request for new instruments is not as easy as it seems. Be patient if you’re in this situation.
  1. If all else fails, invest. If this is something you truly believe in, find a way to fund it yourself. If you prefer a different matrix system than other doctors in your office, perhaps you should invest in yourself and your patients by spending money on these products. One dentist in my office is notorious for buying his own supplies and showing them to other doctors. Over time, our practice has taken over the purchasing of these products that he initially brought to the office.

Every associateship is a learning opportunity. Whether you have dreams to buy-in to a practice, open your own, or always work as an associate, find a way to learn about the business side of the practice. In my short time at Welch Dental Group, I have learned a lot about what it takes to manage a staff, building expenses, supplies, and all the little things outside of teeth. I probably annoy Dr. Ho, Dr. Hearrean, and Barbara (and probably Karen) for my constant questions about the other side of dentistry. It’s important to me to understand all aspects of this profession since I’m so early on. There’s no telling where my career will take me.

Dr. Katie Sowa is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up in Houston and recently graduated from The University of Texas School of Dentistry in 2015. Katie is a general dentist in a large group practice in Katy, Texas (a quick 25 minute commute from Houston). When she’s not working or staying involved with the Greater Houston Dental Society and the Texas Dental Association, she’s usually posting pictures of her miniature Australian shepherd puppy or her CrossFit workouts.

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