Understanding and Evaluating Associateship Opportunities
Philosophy of a Practice as a Foundation

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

Philosophy of a Practice as a Foundation

Prior to entering into an associateship, it is essential to invest time to develop and put into writing a practice philosophy. As busy practitioners/students, it is difficult to find time to reflect on the work being done and why it is being done. Yet dentists are continually confronted with making decisions, consulting, delivering treatment, managing, leading, and striving to find ways to improve. In doing so it is understandable a practice philosophy may be overlooked. Nevertheless, articulating a practice philosophy is a vital tool for a successful practice.

What is a practice philosophy? Philosophy can be defined as a set of beliefs, values and principles relating to a particular field or activity. It is a method of thinking based upon rationalism, striving to make no unexamined assumptions or leaps of faith. Philosophy is the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge or conduct which together form the basis for core values and life.1 Many core values may have been established by guidance from parents and life experiences prior to entering dental school. During dental school, daily challenges surface around a rigorous curriculum and the various disciplines involved in earning a dental degree. Professors also espouse their philosophies; and dental schools reflect either stated and actually practiced values. Students soon discover what they like and dislike about the dental profession and themselves. Most importantly, individual students develop rational reasons answering the “whys” of their likes and dislikes. These beliefs gradually become incorporated into a unique practice philosophy for each person. Beliefs and values represent part of who we are as healthcare providers. According to a study conducted at Case Western University School of Dentistry, and published in JADA,2 an associateship relationship is more likely to be compatible when these variables align between the associate and owner-dentist:

  1. Graduated from the same dental school.
  2. Are of the same gender.
  3. Have similar outside interests.
  4. Have a similar practice philosophy.
Philosophy of a Practice as a Foundation

When you stop to think about having similar practice philosophies, it’s logical the influence of having attended the same institution would no doubt be a major influencing factor. The development of diagnostic and treatment modalities would likely be in concert with one another. Furthermore, general practice management concepts would likely be compatible.