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Is an associate-to-owner path right for you?

Maybe you have always dreamed of owning your own practice, of being your own boss — someday. But you’re not quite sure how to get there.

If you want to own “someday,” the associate-to-owner path might help you get there faster.

With the associate-to-owner path, you join a practice as an associate with an agreement for a future complete sale. This can be a great route if your ultimate goal is 100% ownership, but you do not currently have full financing available or if you want on-site mentorship as you expand your business and clinical skills.

The associate-to-owner path lets you learn from the current owner and build trust with the existing patient pool while preparing yourself financially. You and the current owner can structure the escalation from associateship to ownership however it makes the most sense for your finances and goals. For example, you may work as an associate for two years, then purchase the practice and have the current owner continue as an associate for an additional two years.

Build your skills, speed and confidence without sacrificing quality

A long-standing practice with strong teams, systems and processes can be a great place to perfect your skills with the mentorship of an established dentist. And rather than building your patient base in one practice and then navigating tricky restrictive covenants or non-compete clauses as you go out on your own, you can build and nurture relationships with the practice’s existing patients.

Joining an existing practice also gives you the opportunity to learn how to run a successful business while practicing dentistry, which is essential for eventual ownership.

Gain long-term stability

The first few years out of dental school will involve a lot of change, both in life and career. Determining where you will practice for the long term can give you a foundation to make other decisions. For example, if you know that you will buy a particular practice in two years, you can choose now where to live for the long haul. You won’t need to consider a big move that gets around non-compete clauses when you outgrow a first associateship.

Find the right practice for your associate-to-owner dreams

Start by looking for an owner who is about three to five years from retirement. They want to ensure their practice — and their patients — will be in good hands long after they retire, and they are often happy to mentor a newer dentist.

Look for a practice that’s well-run with solid financials. Such a practice will have strong policies and recall systems that keep patients returning.

Stick with general dentistry for this early phase of your career so you can focus on building your speed and hand skills. If a potential practice offers specialized services, make sure that the current owner will stay on for a while to continue providing these treatments. Confirm that they are willing to train you and that you are interested in learning the skills.

Next, make sure the practice has enough patients (or potential patients) to support you both. The practice may have room to grow if it’s not open every day, there’s a long wait for treatment appointments, or there aren’t many other dentists nearby. Alternatively, if the current owner wants to reduce their hours, you might be able to gradually increase your own hours as they decrease theirs. Either way, be sure how to discuss how you will attract new patients and allocate existing patients.

As you work toward a contract, put all your decisions in writing. That includes your intended timelines, how the transition will be structured, how the practice value will be determined and even what happens if things do not work out. Spending a bit of time upfront to confirm you’re on the same page can avoid headaches and misunderstandings later.   

The associate-to-owner path can be a rewarding scenario for all concerned: Both doctors can achieve their transition goals while patients experience continuity of care. Plus, the community gets to keep an established practice.

Ready to start planning your own future? ADA Practice Transitions is now matching dentists in all 50 states. ADAPT can help you find the right practice with an owner who shares your goals, whether you prefer an associate-to-owner path or a traditional associateship.

~Dr. Suzanne Ebert, VP of Dental Practice & Relationships, ADA Practice Transitions

This blog post was sponsored by ADA Practice Transitions.

ADA Practice Transitions

ADA Practice Transitions, a service of the ADA, matches dentists looking to join a practice with owners seeking an associate or buyer. We bring dentists the resources and support they need while facilitating matches based a shared philosophy of care.

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