For many of us, part of the decision to become a dentist was based on our desire to work independently without a “boss.” While that may be the goal, even those who intend to become business owners and independent practitioners may have to report to someone along the way. Most will start off working for someone else, whether as an associate in a dental corporation or in a private dental practice. While you may be the preferred provider for many patients in the practice, in order to truly succeed in these initial positions, you will need to figure out how to build a good relationship with your boss and get the most out of your time in that practice. The least you can do is your job — and do it well. But beyond that, how else can you maximize your position as a new associate?
Understand the expectations. To do your job well, you have to understand all of the requirements of the position. Perhaps your boss expects you to build the practice but never fully communicated that to you. Imagine the disappointment when you simply treat the patients who are scheduled with you! Make sure that all expectations are communicated to you, so that you can exceed them.
Prove that you are trustworthy. Healthy relationships are built on trust and respect, but it’s likely that you’re practically a stranger to your boss. Since you have yet to earn trust or respect, the first thing you need to do is work toward proving your trustworthiness. If you say you will begin treating patients at 8:30 a.m., be present and ready for work by 7:30 a.m. When it comes to honoring your commitments, make a no-excuses policy for yourself. Hold yourself accountable. Your word is your honor, so if you say you will do something and then give yourself an out, you lose respect and trust.
Anticipate needs. Become indispensable by learning how to best provide support to your boss. If you see that she or he has taken vacation time, offer to work extra days that week to pick up the slack. Take some initiative and think about how you would treat the practice if it was your own. Be careful, though. Before you share your ideas and opinions with others about how to improve the practice, listen, learn and observe. It’s easy to critique existing systems, but if you’re going to point out problems, make sure to offer reasonable solutions. And before you do that, make sure your solutions haven’t been executed and rejected in the past.
Fit the culture. Initially, your best bet is to go with the flow. When you’re an employee in a practice, you don’t necessarily get to choose who works with you. Furthermore, the people who work with you comprise an existing ecosystem, and as a new member, you’re likely to create an imbalance in the existing system. Become a team player. If it’s difficult to get along with the others in the practice, try to determine where the disconnect is and work toward resolving it. Through it all, maintain a positive attitude. You can (and should) learn from any experience, good or bad. If all else fails, you can always look for a better fit in a different practice.
Remember that each opportunity offers new lessons, and as you progress through your career, the lessons you’ve learned as an associate will help you realize your growth potential in your dental career.
~Drs. Ivy Peltz and Eric Studley, Doccupations
Dr. Ivy Peltz and Dr. Eric Studley are both GP directors and clinical associate professors at New York University College of Dentistry, where Dr. Studley is the director of the practice management curriculum. Dr. Studley is also the CEO of a nationally based insurance brokerage company specializing in the insurance and financial needs of dentists (DrEricStudley.com). Dr. Peltz has a private practice in New York City (IvyPeltzdds.com). They are both the co-founders of Doccupations, an algorithmic dental job matching website (Doccupations.com).