Understanding and Evaluating Associateship Opportunities
Etiquette in Practice Transition

Course Author(s): David G. Dunning, MA, PhD; Robert D. Madden, DDS, MBA

Etiquette in Practice Transition

As you consider offering an associateship position or evaluating an associateship position, remember that your actions should reflect professional ethics: autonomy; beneficence; justice; veracity. Here are some suggestions to guide your actions.

Some Dos

  • Focus initial discussions on compatibility of personalities and philosophies of practice, not on numbers or about salary/compensation or practice performance indicators. Use open-ended questions, listen, and allow time for the owner and associateship candidates to talk. For examples, “Ideally, how would you describe your practice 5 years from now?” “Tell me about your philosophy of practice … of staff management/teamwork?” “How would you describe an ideal associate in your practice?”
  • Keep information confidential as mutually agreed upon. The owner and associate will both likely need feedback from professionals such as an attorney and an accountant and perhaps others. Make sure this information sharing is acceptable with the practice/dentist/candidate/organization with whom you are negotiating.
  • Explore in greater detail practice information in proportion to the developing relationship of the parties involved.
  • Associateship candidates should find out as much as possible about the community, county, state as you can before getting into details of each opportunity.
  • Inform one another in a timely manner of continued interest in an opportunity or lack thereof.
  • Request over time more detailed information needed to make an informed decision.
  • Remain cordial, calm; maintain a business focus.
  • Be willing to negotiate; if you don’t ask, you may not get what you want.
  • Thank and provide feedback to those who provide you with referral opportunities and professional advice.
  • Monitor the involvement of family members. Extended family members may create unreasonable barriers to reaching an agreement.
  • Watch how you are treated because this may be predictive of the future.
  • Be clear about your short-term and long-term intentions and plans.
  • Fulfill promises, such as meeting deadlines for written materials, i.e., employee agreements.
  • Discuss practice valuation issues, such as timing and process prior to an associate begins working.

Some Don’ts

  • Play people/opportunities against each other, particularly practices/dentists in the same city/county/area.
  • Gossip.
  • Share practice-specific information with others unless you have clear permission to do so.
  • “Burn bridges” with potential colleagues/peers.
  • Break an associateship over comparatively small issues such as 10 days for vacation instead of 12 days or a difference in salary of $10,000/year or a CE benefit of $2,000 vs. $2,500 a year.
  • Be surprised by or pass judgment on others based on generational differences. For examples: a 76 year-old practitioner may have limited technology in a practice; soon-to-graduate associateship candidates may have limited experience in treating dental emergencies or in specific technical skill areas such as endodontics and implants.