To Add or Not to Add an Associate

With the holiday season in full swing and the end of the year approaching faster than ever, many practice owners utilize this time of year to put the finishing touches on their business plans and goals for the upcoming year. Perhaps one of the most important decisions any practice owner will make during annual planning is whether or not to add an associate dentist to their practice.

Knowing if your practice is ready to hire an associate, however, is key to determining the success of any expansion. Here are some tips to follow when considering the addition of an associate to your practice, including good reasons to add and good reasons to wait:

Good Reasons to Add

  • It fits with your mission– If you offer a unique set of services to your target patient base, your production numbers are above industry norms, and you can easily add more patients by offering more capacity, it might be a good time to look at adding an associate.
  • It fits with your long-term strategy – We’ve written numerous articles over the years about having a clear picture of what you want your practice to look like and be like in five years, ten years, or when you are ready to transition out. If you don’t have a long-term objective, it’s important to develop one before hiring anyone. If you need some help, we’ve put together a great guide on preparing a business plan and organizing your objectives and goals:  8 Simple Steps to preparing a Business Plan.
  • A great opportunity presents itself–One of the best indicators it may be time to add an associate is if there is an underserved patient population in your community and you could fill a new associate’s schedule by catering to their needs.
  • You find an associate with the following three qualities: 
    1. Clinical philosophy is in sync with yours
    2. Personality fits well with yours and that of your office culture
    3. Your long term goals align (i.e. she wants to buy an office in 5 years, you want to sell your office in 5 years)

If these three things align, just about all other issues can be worked out in time. If clinical philosophies, personalities, or long-term goals are not in line, however, don’t make the hire.

  • Complimentary Skills– If an associate loves working with pediatric patients or performing specific procedures where you routinely refer these cases out, you may be able to add a complimentary revenue stream to your practice without adding patients.
  • You can afford to fail– Adding an associate is a calculated risk. Make absolutely sure that if an associate does not work out, it will not seriously jeopardize the long-term health of your practice. We’ve seen doctors literally hand their practice over to a new associate on their first day so the owner could take an extended two month vacation or stop practicing all together. This is a recipe for disaster, and often comes with costly consequences for the practice owner.
  • You are truly prepared – Make sure you have the operatories, systems, and staff to support a new associate before you make a hire. The reason that most associate relationships fail is because the practice simply wasn’t ready. There are plenty of great associate opportunities out there. Don’t lose a great associate because he or she lacks the equipment, staff, mentoring, or patients. Just because you need an associate does not mean your practice is ready for one.

Good Reasons to Wait

  • Your practice’s systems are inefficient– When was the last time you took a look at your practice’s internal efficiencies? Is your practice producing what comparably-sized practices are? If the answer is no, you may want to speak with a practice consultant so you can get the most out of your current system and team. Adding an associate will not fix your production issues, but will simply add to the inefficiency of your practice.
  • You want more time off– Many doctors make the mistake of adding an associate simply because they want more time off. This reason is perfectly justifiable, but first you need to assess the financial impact of an associate taking over some or all of your current production. If you can improve your quality of life by adding an associate to share your current workload and give you more free time, by all means do it. Just make sure you get with your financial consultant to ensure you truly understand the impact of such a decision.
  • You’ve just expanded or built a new office and want to “fill it up”– Just because a new building will accommodate two, three, four, or five associates and the accompanying support staff doesn’t mean you will immediately have patient demand to fill everyone’s schedule immediately. “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t always work when it comes to eye care, especially in the short term.
  • Your competitor just hired an associate– Can you hear your Mom saying “if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” There is a lot of truth behind that old phraseology, as silly as it may seem. What might be right for a competitor’s practice and financial situation isn’t necessarily best for your own practice, and vice versa. Identifying and assessing your practice’s specific needs and goals will always warrant better results than simply trying to copy your competitor’s strategies.

Adding an associate is an important decision for any practice owner to make. With some careful thought and planning, though, the addition of the right team member to any practice can boost production levels and increase the overall profitability of the practice as a whole.

If you’re considering adding an associate, feel free to reach out to one of our experienced dental recruiters and let ETS find your next great associate for you!

Written by Mark Kennedy, President and Owner of ETS Dental, Vision, and Tech-Ops. For more information, contact us and let ETS Vision find your next associate, partner, or buyer today!


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