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What is a Dental Associateship?
Dental Associate

Dental associates are non-owner dentists who work in a dental practice. There are usually two compensation arrangements offered to associates:

  • Employee of the practice
  • Independent contractor

As an employee of the practice, you may be offered an employment contract that will define your employment relationship with the practice. Often it will detail how you will be paid, vacation, sick time, continuing education perimeters, a restrictive covenant, and a non-solicitation clause. An employee is afforded many protections under the law in the work environment. Your employer is responsible for paying employment taxes on your behalf and these taxes will be deducted directly from your paycheck. As an employee, you are under the supervision of the owner or management of the practice.

As an independent contractor, you are not an employee of the practice. This is an important distinction. The law clearly defines the attributes that correctly constitute a proper independent contractor relationship. If you are told what time to be at work, which patients to see at a given time, and are using the instruments and materials of the practice, an argument could be made that your relationship does not fit that of an independent contractor. Independent contractors pay their own employment taxes (estimated quarterly payroll taxes) and receive a form 1099 from their employer at the end of the year to show the amount of compensation that they received. Many independent contractors choose to incorporate. Incorporation will afford a layer of legal protection and allow you to deduct legitimate business expenses against your income.

Common provisions in an independent contractor contract include:

  • Parties – who is bound to this contract (usually the practice owner and you)
  • Term – duration of contract and renewal options
  • Conditions – what the practice will provide, what you will provide
  • Use of your name in marketing materials
  • Compensation structure
  • Non-compete clauses (will vary based on location)
  • Termination clauses

Always have a lawyer or dental contract expert review the terms of your contract. The provisions will vary by state because of differences in employment laws like taxation, malpractice and workers comp.

How do you know if a practice is a good fit?

When evaluating the opportunity as either an employee or an independent contractor, there are several important questions to ask:

  • What type of condition is the equipment in?
  • Are the treatment rooms set up as left or right handed? Can they be switched if necessary?
  • Is the practice in good financial standing?
  • What type of patient flow does the practice have?
  • Are you responsible for filling your schedule or will the front office provide you with patients?
  • What is the collection rate?
  • Do the other dentists in the practice have a similar philosophy of care?
  • What type of technology does the practice implement?
  • Are the patient files in good order?
  • Is the staff knowledgeable and friendly?
  • Are their opportunities for growth with this practice?
  • Check online to see if the practice has a social media presence or any Yelp reviews

Often, associates are eventually offered the opportunity to “buy-in” to practice ownership with either “sweat equity” or with cash. You may be offered a minority interest (usually less than 50%), an equal partnership (50%), a majority interest (51%+), or the opportunity to purchase the business outright. Always seek qualified advice when structuring a buy in, partnership, or outright purchase of a dental business, as there are many factors to consider and pitfalls to avoid. A poor practice purchase choice can significantly affect your financial future!

Where should you look for an associateship?

It’s never too soon to start looking for available opportunities. Here are a few places to begin your search:

  • Your local or state dental organization 
  • Your school may have a placement service
  • Dental practice brokers
  • Online job boards such as Indeed.com or Craigslist.com 
  • Dental supply sales reps
  • Get on the phone and call doctors in the area you want to practice
  • Ask upperclassmen or recent graduates if they know about any opportunities

Read more in ASDA publications:

This content was developed in part with Wendy Pesavento of Chicago Practice Sales (ChicagoPracticeSales.com) and Wendy Pesavento and Sharon Bogetz, MBA, Med, of Cutting Edge Practice, Inc. (www.CuttingEdgePractice.com).  

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