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Practice management expert Linda Miles has important tips for senior dentists, associate doctors, and team members onboarding a new associate dentist.  


I've seen too many dental associateships fail in my 36 years of consulting, and I honestly believe there needs to be a few quick rules. Here are my top-of-mind tips, or “best practices,” to get you started on the right foot.


Two Tips for Senior Dentists

  1. Senior dentists need to praise publicly, and train and reprimand privately. They should not micromanage, and they should not give the new (and commonly younger) dentist only the leftover dentistry. Otherwise, trust is not built between the team and the associate.
  2. Senior dentists need to encourage the team to endorse the new doctor. When a senior doctor overlaps in the practice with the Associate for six months or more, maybe years, it is often difficult for team members to endorse the new doctor because they don’t want to appear disloyal to the dentist who has signed their paycheck for years. Senior dentists should encourage team members to endorse the new doctor and be watchful to make sure this happens. 


Four Tips for New Associates

  1. Before onboarding, associates need to be clear what they are getting into. Many associates find themselves signed on to a sinking ship and that higher value restorative treatments are assigned only to Dr. Senior. Many find they are rarely scheduled to see existing patients. Many find they are battling to earn adequate income. Get agreement about the services you will provide to patients, where your patients will come from, and how you will be compensated. Find out if the practice is financially healthy. Are you sure there is good potential for new patient engagement in the community?
  2. Consider if your associateship will allow you to function as a partner in expanding the practice, providing services you enjoy most, and sharing in practice profits. Will you be able collaborate on marketing to bring in new patients? Get some assurances from the doctor you are joining.
  3. Make sure you and the senior dentist are aligned in how you envision working with patients. Visit and observe. Are your ideals compatible with the practice philosophy? Will the senior dentist be a good and willing mentor for you?
  4. Don’t buddy up to team members. It’s common for the team to want to buddy up to the associate. They want to take him or her to lunch. They want to invite them to their home for dinner. They want to fuss about how things are with Dr. Senior. If the entire team is going to lunch together, the associate can go, but the younger dentists cannot become a good friend to any of the team members, and they need to keep a professional distance if they're already a friend of a team member.


Three Tips for Team Members

  1. Promote the new dentist to patients. Team members should never imply the associate is second best. They should promote the associate and sing her or his praises. I have observed many times an administrative team member saying, “Oh, I’m sorry to say that Dr. Senior is not here today, but you could see our Associate.” I recommend saying this: “Mrs. Bailey, Dr. Senior would not want you to wait. He would want you to see Dr. New, who joined our practice since you were here last. Our patients love him, and you’re going to be in really good hands.” 
  2. Stay clear of gossip. If conversation among team members ever turns negative about Dr. Senior, never become involved in gossip and don’t invite Dr. New to join in the conversation. 
  3. Never pit one of the dentists against the other or put them in the awkward position of not supporting each other. Bring up problems that need resolution as an entire team with both dentists in the same conversation.


Another Patient Prism Resource for Dental Practices in Transition

Click here to see 3 Keys to Transition from Dentist to Dental Entrepreneur.

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