Associate Feasibility Analysis

Bring up the topic of adding an Associate to a group of dentists and get ready for the horror stories. Almost every dentist does it at one time or another in his/her dental career. Only a few do it well! Everyone intends for the process to be successful. Why don’t more of them work? There are several common themes that emerge as we look at failed associateships.

  • The hiring dentist hasn’t taken the time to create an updated Life Plan and Practice Transition Plan prior to bringing the young dentist on board.
  • The hiring dentist doesn’t take the time to assess the practice’s capacity to support an associate.
  • There is little or no pre-planning before the associate dentist arrives on the scene. Most often they begin their relationship as relative strangers and the result is that both attempt to attend to the details as they go along.
  • The dentist excludes the team from the planning process.
  • No one talks about the ripple effect that occurs as a result of adding another dentist, such as adding a dental assistant, scheduling for another producer, expanding activity in the hygiene area or needing more space.
  • They are in an inadequate orientation and training program. Little time is given to discussing what a mentoring process would look like and its importance.
  • The host dentist fails to anticipate the degree of added complexity that will come into their lives as a result of adding another dentist to the practice. I refer to the time an effective mentoring process takes. Really, what happens when you add another dentist to your practice is that you make a conscious decision to be willing to make your life much more complicated in the early going so that you can reap the benefits of a successful associateship later.
  • There is far more discussion and focus on the Employment Agreement and the fianancial package for the associate than on their relationship, shared values and philosophies and other behavioral considerations.
  • It is easy for both to lose sight of the big picture and bog down in the day-to-day grind without a view of their shared future.
  • The result is that talented, well-intended people unwittingly create failure rather than success. Often, the right people were in place. But, without the right plan, the project is usually doomed from the start.

We learn more from studying the successes than from looking at what doesn’t work. Here are some thoughts about setting a personal course that will dramatically increase your prospects for success in the process of adding an associate dentist to your practice.


It is important to go back to the drawing board and look carefully at what you want in your ideal future. What will you gain and what will you lose if you add an associate to your practice right now?

What does your team think about adding another dentist to the practice? In addition to your own updated vision and new goals, staff members are the best resource to analyze the issues. They will have to support the process for it to work. They should be brought in on the planning the moment you have your updated and clarified personal and practice plans in place. Do not keep the team from your private discussions. Excluding the team from this process is dangerous business.


Look at the current trends in your practice. Are you growing? Is the practice stagnant or in modest decline? Review all practice data for the past three years, paying particular attention to the past six months.

Evaluate your patient resources. Look at total active patients, new trends, hygiene effectiveness, referral patterns and attrition. What ability does the practice have to give patients to the new associate and help him/her get started?

What is the current condition of your schedule? What are current activity levels like? Can your practice operate more efficiently without adding another dentist at the present time?

Evaluate your physical facility. Can the treatment area accommodate another dentist during the same hours? Is the reception room large enough to handle greater patient flow? What about the business office, private office, equipment, technology, instrumentation and team support? What is your potential for expansion of the suite?

Examine your current team. Do you have staff members in place to support the associate or will you need to add more people? What will the effect on the overhead expenses be at the beginning? Are you now making maximum use of your personnel? Does the team agree that this is the right time to add an associate? What will the new dentist’s role be in the management and leadership of the practice?

Look at your current management systems. Are the accounting and business office functions up to date and capable of handling an increased flow of patients? Is the telephone system adequate? Will the computer system need to be updated or expanded?

Have you and your team taken the time to put together a success plan and a training and orientation program for the incoming associate?

Have you looked carefully at the impact on the role of the hiring dentist and how it must be altered to create success in this project? It certainly doesn’t work to just continue practicing exactly the same way without any modification of hours or types of patients seen.

Given a successful experience, will the associate have an opportunity to buy part or all of the practice after the initial phase? If so, it is critical for the young dentist to know the price, terms, timetable and condiitons for the eventual buy-in or buy-out right at the beginning of your relationship.


The Practice Valuation and all discussions regarding the terms and timetable of the eventual ownership must be discussed before the young dentist sets foot in the practice as an employee. Let all due diligence occur before the first day the young dentist enters the practice.

More often than not, the host dentist and the associate prospect take the time to deal only with the initial employment period. They don’t get into the details of the future purchase opportunity. They agree to make it up as they go along, thus running the risk that future discussions about the actual Value of the practice will lead to problems.

There are always grooming steps that take place before the associate enters the practice. These strategic moves will improve the practice and enhance the prospect for success once the young dentist comes on to the scene. These steps include such things as updating the office, improving the recare system, shoring up referral relationships, adding equipment and technology, bringing in a consultant to help update systems, improve team communication and establish a new vision for the practice, etc. Your entire practice will benefit from improved patient flow, better systems, new conflict resolution skills and renewed commitment to practice growth.


Take the time to create a profile of an ideal candidate before beginning your search process. Sit down with your team members and ask them what kind of person would predict highly for success in your unique environment. What do they want and expect? What do your patients want and expect? If you are a specialist, what do your referral practices want and expect? What traits, qualities, characteristics and skills will the ideal associate candidate need to bring to the practice to be successful? What can you and your team do to accelerate that young person’s development?

Next you must market the opportunity and screen candidates, measuring your impressions of them against the template created by your Ideal Candidate Profile. Don’t go looking for candidates until you have addressed these important steps or you are asking for problems. This planning will pay rich dividends when you get into the associate search phase.

Adding an Associate can be a rewarding process for all involved. Planning is the KEY!