Home Practice ManagementTransitionAssociateships I’ve Thought About Bringing on An Associate Now What Do I Do?

I’ve Thought About Bringing on An Associate Now What Do I Do?

by John Meis

So many doctors hire an associate without having a plan and then they wonder why the relationship failed. When it comes down to it, the majority of the time, it fails due to the leadership of the senior doctor. Let’s look at how we can increase the success of adding an associate to your practice.

I like to think of associates as baby birds, that you’re going to hold, nurture and protect, often at your own expense for a period of time before they are ready to fly in your practice. Yet most of us approach this with a “sink or swim” attitude. Perhaps because that is what happened to us when we were associates. But things have changed, dental schools are struggling to get patients, which means that the students aren’t able to get the same number of repetitions for each procedure as you and I did. With less repetitions they have formed less capacity for judgement and clinical speed. They are coming out of school looking for mentors.

If they find a practice where they are thrown in, often with the least experienced assistant, in the operatory that isn’t fully equipped, doing all of the crappy procedures that are handed down by the senior doctor, with too little access to new patients – they aren’t going to stay long. They won’t feel fulfilled or challenged. We fail them, by not providing great leadership, great mentorship, great nurturing and great accountability. It’s our job to ensure that we are prepared BEFORE their arrival and have set them up to succeed in our practice and in our profession.

How can we do this? We create a plan for success and then we follow the plan!

Create patient demand for the associate before they ever walk through the door.

Most practices attempt to bring on an associate before they have the demand to support another doctor. In reality, associate doctors will go through more new patients than you do. Their case presentation skills are not at your level and they can’t explain or present treatment plans like

you can. They also won’t attract as many new patients as you do – they will be looking at you to provide their new patients.

I am often asked what is the best way to ramp up the patient flow in anticipation of a new doctor. Do you just open the schedule up and hope it fills? Do you start the new doctor a few days a week and ramp up as demand goes up? How full does the schedule need to be to support another doctor?

Unfortunately, there is no magic answer. What I can tell you is that you need to be prepared for the following:

1. Demand: Do you have enough patient flow to feed an associate? If you don’t have more new patients than you can take care of right now, then you are not ready to bring on an associate. Here are 2 opportunities that you can take advantage of immediately to drive more demand in your practice.

• Opportunity #1: Same-Day-Dentistry. In many practices, same-day treatment is what feeds the new associate for the first few months or even the first year.

My practice was doing $3,000-$9,000 a day of sameday treatment. This is treatment that was not on the books when we started the day. We know that patients are wanting convenience. How much more convenient would it be, if you could treat additional work the same day? This is a tremendous pool of demand that most practices don’t take advantage of. While this concept is simple to do when you have the systems in place, you do need to have the systems in place before dropping an associate into the mix. (This is a strategy that I recommend for all practices regardless of your plans to bring on associates.)

• Opportunity #2: Understand the difference between the perception, and the reality of demand.

Perception and Reality are two different things and the “fixes” are different too. For instance, most practices believe that they need more patients (demand) yet, most do a poor job managing their current opportunities.

For example, most practices don’t have a good system for answering the phones. The latest studies show that about 64% of incoming calls are never answered.

That is demand that you are not capturing today that you could be. Then, of the calls that are answered, only 45% turn into appointments. This is opportunity calling. Fix the hours that you answer the phones and fix the conversion of the calls you are answering and

you will find untapped demand in your practice that you are already paying for. There is likely a goldmine of untapped demand in your hygiene department (which can be converted with same-day-dentistry), in your case presentation skills, in your financial arrangements, in your patient retention systems, and in your scheduling systems. Most practices can find the demand for an associate by simply tightening up and creating good systems in their already successful practice.

2. Capacity: Having patients to treat won’t do you any good if you don’t have the capacity and resources available to see them.

• Do you have a place for your associate to practice?

If you think you will be able to find an associate who’s going to work the evenings and weekends so that you only have to work 9-5, you’ll have a revolving door of associates. Expanding hours and days WILL fill your practice with more patients, but if the load falls to one person, success will be elusive. You might be able to find someone who will do this for the short-term, but it won’t create a long-term relationship and it won’t set the associate doctor up for success. You will need to have a room available for them to work.

• Do you have the resources available for an associate? Too often, the associate doctor is given a room that nobody wants with old or broken equipment…

or both. You may need to invest in additional equipment to provide associate doctors with the best chance for success. I advise everyone to also give the associate doctor the best assistant (usually that means giving up your own assistant.) You want to provide the new doctor with the very best and that includes your very best talent.

3. Emotional Preparedness: This has everything to do with you being prepared for what you are getting into. If you can’t answer yes, to the following, you are not ready to bring on an associate

• Are you willing to take on the responsibility of mentoring and leading a new doctor through their uncharted waters? While they may come with clinical skills, they will look to you to navigate many things including schedule management.

• Are you willing to give a greater share of patients to the associate? They are going to need more than you are.

• Are you willing to be patient? Their speed is going to take time to develop.

• Are you willing to make less income temporarily while the associate ramps up?

Bringing on a good associate will take time – if it was easy, everyone would do it. But it is possible to create an amazing practice that can nurture, mentor, and provide an associate with home, they are proud to work for, IF you put in a little work to set them up for success.

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