Associations exist because the Principal dentist is over capacity and needs professional help. Perhaps the Principal dentist is growing their practice and needs to ease the stress involved. And for the Associate, this is an opportunity to take what they’ve learned in dental school and beyond and apply it to real-life cases in a business context (i.e. the dental practice). Patient relations, timing, staff relations, record-keeping, marketing, etc., all come out of the woodworks and become part of the Associate’s day-to-day practice.
Competency is a definite must-have when it comes to the Principal hiring a dentist. But the Associate’s personality must also match or at least compliment the Principal dentists and/or the practice’s. We learned in our Transitions Course at U of T (Dental Practice Management) about DISC Personality Profiling. This system allows you to characterize people’s at-work personalities in one or more of four (4) categories: Dominant, Influencer, Steady, Conscientious. Dominant people love the limelight, need everything to be short and sweet, and are leaders/drivers. Influencers are socialites, talkative and need to be around people. Steady people are generally quiet, cooperate with others, and are loyal. Conscientious tend to work quietly in a back room/office, love/crave details and are very systematic. I’m generally a strong DI, but when I’m working, I’m also a strong C. I crave the limelight, love marketing, have little patients for details, and crave power and authority. My law partner (David Mayzel) is a very strong C. He loves the details, is very diplomatic and systematic, and analyzes things carefully and critically. Our personality profiles complement each other and that’s why we get along so well.
So going back to the Principal dentist hiring an Associate, what type of personality profile is ideal? Perhaps it’s a mix of Influencer and Conscientious? Someone who is people-friendly, not overly dominant or steady, and who is also detail-oriented when it comes to their work? So when the Principal is interviewing candidates for an Associate position, they should ask questions to determine what personality profile the Associate could fall within. You could ask questions about work ethic, philosophical values, hours of work, personal goals, and ask the Associate to rank certain things by their preference. If they match the personality profile they’re looking for, then working day-to-day with this person should be smoother. If they don’t, then the Associate should keep looking.
Terms of the Associate Agreement
How long will the term be? Typically we see 1 to 2 years. This helps make the relationship finite / defined instead of indefinite (which would resemble that of an ongoing employee).
What will the schedule be like? A few days a week? What hours? What if they are scheduled to come in on a civic holiday? Will they be required to make up that day another time? What about educational time off (and who will be paying for that)?
Who owns the patient charts and other confidential information of the practice? Typically, this will be the Principal dentist and/or the dental practice. Sometimes, however, the Associate may be able to bring in their own patients and will own the patient records they create in respect thereof.
How much compensation will be paid? Typically, this is 40% of net monthly collections (but it could be more if the Associate warrants it). The latter do not include lab fees or hygiene fees performed by the hygienist, or extraordinary costs under the Fee Guide. But this will include hygiene checks performed by the Associate.
How much time off will the Associate be entitled to? How much notice do they have to provide?
How can the associate agreement be terminated? Mutually? By one or both parties giving notice? What if insufficient notice is provided? For just cause (i.e. for good reason, like stealing, being convicted of a crime or losing a dental license)? Upon the Associate or the Principal’s death or disability? Will there be a probationary period (typically up to 3 months) for the Principal dentist to assess and evaluate the Associate dentist’s performance and ‘fit’ within the practice? If so, typically, the Principal dentist would be able to terminate within this timeframe simply by informing the Associate of its intention to do so and without needing to provide extended notice.
There are also other terms that can be included in the Associate agreement – such as benefits provided to the Associate, services supplied by the Principal, the nature of the relationship (e.g. independent contractor offering services to a client), continuing education requirements and credits, performance incentives/rewards/bonuses, and general terms. You can also incorporate dress policies, anti-harassment policies, record-keeping policies, etc.
Will the Associate have an option to purchase? We typically don’t see this from the get-go, but we do encourage Associates to ask for and get one in place if they can and if the Principal is willing to provide one. The idea is that this option can give the Associate, within some timeframe, the option to purchase the dental practice (assets, shares, etc.) from the Principal for a set price or based on a determined formula (e.g. based on an appraisal or multiple of one year’s annual gross billings).