Have you been searching for your associateship? There might seem like several options, and so many things to consider before landing your first position on your way to becoming a practice owner. Before you take that dive into interviews and do your necessary preparations, it’s important to reevaluate what you’re hoping to get out of the experience, and vet the practice to make sure your philosophies and ideals match up with the game plan or mission statement of the owner dentist.
Without asking yourself some important intrapersonal questions, you might wind up feeling like you’re in the wrong practice, and wish you took the time to get a sense of your future. The interview process is set up both as a way for the employer dentist to get a better idea of who you are, but also for you to find out more about the practice, so ask questions! They will help you get a better idea of what the practice owner has in mind for you when you begin, and how he or she is looking to grow with your talents and philosophies.
Courtesy of Dr. Jere Gillan’s recent presentation on the subject, here are some of the most valuable questions to ask for yourself and during the interview when considering becoming a part of a practice:
How many patients does the practice see? Are they new or recurring? What type of patient am I seeing?
The success of a dental practice depends on its recurring patients, as well as its ability to attract new ones. Fewer patients result in diminished production, which translates into less collections and compensation. Practices that are focused on oral hygiene might see hundreds of patients in any given week with three to four dental hygienists on-hand. Keeping a full schedule means marketing the practice to ensure new patients, whether that’s your responsibility (i.e., in a private practice) or the role of the DSO (i.e., in a DSO-supported practice). If you prefer to focus on patient care and allow others to manage the marketing activities, then the DSO practice may be more appropriate for you.
The type of patient you’re seeing has several implications. If you’re not comfortable caring for adolescent patients, a pediatric practice is not your move. If you lack experience or skills in removable prosthodontics, that has a bearing on a practice with an older patient base (which can be very financially rewarding, too). A fee-for-service practice will have a different compensation model from a Medicaid practice, and knowing your projected patient base provides telling information not only about the procedures you’ll provide daily but also your collections and production. Therefore, it is important for future dentists to understand how many of these different patients they’ll be seeing in any given workday.
What does the typical schedule look like for me?
Are you seeing one patient every hour? Three hygiene checks? One or two new patients each day? Getting a good idea of what your day-to-day workload will look like can give you an idea of how much production you’ll be generating in any given day, and how you’ll be compensated as a result. Whether in a private practice, large group practice, or federal dentistry setting, get a grasp on what the daily work life is like.
What types of procedures or care is the practice providing?
You probably won’t be tasked with full-mouth reconstructions as an associate, but maybe you’ll find yourself responsible for single-unit crowns and Class I and II fillings. It’s a start! Being exposed to these procedures (while also building your knowledge through continuing education [CE] courses) can help you develop the necessary experience, improving your skills and confidence as you approach leadership roles within the practice.
What is the opportunity for professional growth or practice ownership?
Your development as a professional is important, and the training and mentorship you receive as an associate dentist are directly related. It's the way you gain exposure to and familiarity with diagnoses, treatment planning, and procedures in which you are not fully versed during your dental school training. Understanding if the practice supports the dentists and staff in these opportunities (including CE) is key, so be sure to ask during the interview process.
Additionally, many dental students dream of one day owning their own practices, so see if this opportunity will present itself. Practice ownership can be achieved through either a traditional private practice model or a dental support organization practice model, and it is healthy to understand if this is an option as you first discuss the associateship role. Both DSO and private practices offer the potential for professional growth, but ownership needs to be negotiated and talked about extensively at certain times before the eventual shift, and both pathways don’t always lead down this road. This is why it’s important to get a sense of the vision the owner dentist has in store for the practice to see where you fit. If ownership is the end goal for you, figure out if it’s available to you.
The best thing you can do for yourself prior to graduating dental school is figuring out what career path is right for you. If you are searching for your first associateship, understand what any given practice is all about and see where you fit within it. Your dental school education will help you establish yourself and your abilities, creating your practice philosophy and your strengths on the way to becoming an established dentist.
5 Questions You Should and Shouldn't Ask During Your Associate Interview: http://blog.thenextdds.com/5-questions-you-should-and-shouldnt-ask-during-your-associate-interview
6 Important Keys to Interviewing for Dental Students: http://blog.thenextdds.com/6-important-keys-to-interviewing-for-dental-students5 Tips for Interviewing: http://www.thenextdds.com/Blogs/THE-NEXTDDS-Student-Ambassador-Blogs/5-Tips-for-Interviewing/