Q: Any tips for finding an associate doctor that stays with my practice for the long-term?
The first thing to understand is that you can’t expect to have total control over the length of time someone stays in your practice. With anyone you hire – a front desk person, associate, etc., you can’t guarantee that they’ll stay with your practice “forever.” That said, there are a few factors to consider during the hiring process that can contribute to creating a workable long-term relationship.
With an associate doctor, extra due diligence is important; because if they leave or if you hire the wrong associate, it can create more damage than a front desk person, dental assistant, etc. (Although, to be fair, hiring a front desk person who turns away new patients, is rude with patients of record or mishandles finances can be considerably damaging in its own right).
The associate’s long-term goals should also be factored into the hiring process. If you hire them, you’re going to invest in them with training, getting them integrated and all the effort you put into getting them successful in your office.
So, when hiring it’s important to establish your prospective associate’s long-term career plans. If you want an associate who’ll be with the practice long-term, you’re not going to hire somebody that’s looking for their own practice anytime soon, or that has already started their own practice, or possibly plans to make an unaffordable or unreal salary at some point in the future.
You’re looking for someone who has long-term goals that suit your practice. And it needs to be real to YOU that this will be a good fit. Based on the data you gather, is this going to be a realistic fit long-term or do you know that it won’t end up working out for whatever reason?
So, their goals are an important thing to consider, but there are also a few more important points to cover.
(Related: Integrating a New Associate and Reducing Staff Turnover)
1. Their personality.
They must be a genuinely nice person and care about people. Even if they are a whiz clinically, if they’re not friendly and passionate about helping people, they’re probably not going to work out.
2. Clinical skill.
Obviously, their clinical work needs to be up to your standards.
3. Clinical philosophy.
If your prospective associate has a radically different treatment philosophy than you do, you may end up with problems. Because dentistry can at times be subjective (some are more aggressive with treatment planning, some are conservative and so on), you need to make sure you’re on the same page.
If it’s clear they have a different philosophy, but they’re “willing to do it your way” for now, this is a recipe for disaster. I’ve spoken with countless dentists who ended up leaving and starting their own practice because they eventually got sick of compromising and needed to do it their way.
Instead of just talking to them in general terms, you should actually go over some x-rays and see how they’d diagnose and treatment plan it. If they have pictures or x-rays of their work, check it.
Speed is interesting, because when you mention speed, you’d think of it from a productivity standpoint, but that’s actually not the main reason, because as a person gets more experience they usually become faster and productivity will eventually improve. The main thing with speed is that you don’t want to create a customer service problem where a patient is used to getting a filling in 30 minutes from you, but the new person takes an hour and a half. The patient will be upset.
It’s okay if they’re a little slower than you at first, but if they take an unreasonable amount of time, it’s not going to work. Customer service is important.
(Related: All About Associates – Part 1)
How to Successfully Start Off the Working Relationship
Once the associate doctor is hired, here are a few ideas as to how to ensure your new associate integrates successfully:
- Start off slow and ramp up. E.g. you drill, they fill, then you check it. Have them assist you with some cases that you both are interested in doing together. Get on the same page, get used to each other. It also gives you an opportunity to make sure you’re happy with the work.
This does not have to take a long time. We’re talking about a few weeks here.
- Keep the new patient exams and hygiene checks yourself. Asking the associate to diagnose and sell treatment can be dangerous for your production. You already have a relationship with the existing patient and will be better at getting the patient to accept treatment and are probably better at forming a relationship with new patients and getting them to accept treatment.
If the new associate is immediately presenting their own cases, don’t be surprised if case acceptance and then production drops drastically. The ability to communicate and present treatment effectively is something that needs to be learned, and most new associate doctors simply don’t have that skill set yet. They’ve never had to develop it because they don’t own their own practice that depends on them for income.
(Related: How to Know if You Should Expand Your Dental Practice)
So, if you keep the new patients and hygiene checks, you can have your associate help create more time to do that by giving them more of the treatment. You can obviously keep the cases you like or procedures you enjoy doing. But make sure you don’t skim all the cream off the top, so your associate is not doing anything challenging.
If you’re going to do it this way, make sure their pay is structured in a way that the associate is not going to run into trouble financially. You could probably put them on a base daily rate, plus a percentage of what they produce. For example, $500/day plus 5% of collectible production. You have to play with these numbers based upon what you’re planning on paying the associate annually, but also give them an opportunity to make more money if they are productive.
- The last thing to keep in mind is that when you’re hiring an associate, you’re not hiring some special kind of employee. Most problems with associates occur when they get treated differently than the rest of the employees. You don’t talk to them, they get no training, no reviews, and no opportunity to really get integrated into the practice…because they’re a doctor. They ARE a doctor, so of course you give them the respect that comes with the title, but they are also part of the team and you might handle them as such.
Just like you should have job manuals for any other new staff you hire, you should have manuals for the associate doctor(s). On our training platform www.ddssuccess.com, we expect the associate doctors to go through the training courses like everybody else – especially the courses on communication and case acceptance.
I hope this helps! Of course, if you have any questions you can contact us now for immediate help at (800) 640-1140. And you can reach me directly at SabriB@mgeonline.com
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