Home Practice Management The Assistant Dentist In The Tree Of Man

The Assistant Dentist In The Tree Of Man

by David Moffet

Most dental offices out there are one dentist shows. So if you don’t employ an associate dentist you may not be interested in this article. If so, you have my permission to skip it.

You see, the Assistant Dentist role, [or known as the Associate Dentist] as I see it, is an interesting position in a Dental Office. It offers the following question:

Where in the Practice/Office hierarchy does the Assistant Dentist get positioned?

This question could take months of intense debate to answer and there are multi-factorial contributions into the equation.

The reason for this posting is simply:

“I don’t know the answer”, and

“It depends…”

You see, there are some dentists I know well who have moved on from Dental Office Ownership, and are now enjoying the change of life role of being a dentist in a dental office owned by someone else. However, this role of “mature-age associate dentist” is completely different to the role of “recent graduate assistant dentist” which many of us have experienced, both as young doctors and as dental practice owners. One of my buddies is doing locums. Sometimes as the replacement dentist, sometimes as an assistant dentist…that’s an interesting caper. Another friend of mine is working as an assistant dentist in a “partnership of sorts” for a deceased estate. And a third dentist I know has joined a multi-dental office as the fifth dentist.

Now most dental offices out there are one man shows. That’s a fact! Or one doctor shows [political correctness]. Those that are more, are often, what I would loosely call partnerships, where the various dentists through some contractual arrangement have a share in some expenses, such as rent, utilities, office staff etc.…

And then there’s those with the associate dentist, and with that, comes the question of relationship, and is it master-servant? Or what is it?

This is a really tough question, and I guess it really does boil down to the ages, and experiences, of the owner dentist and the non-owner dentist, as well as the future expectations of both.

You see the relationship of an old bull-young bull mentorship type position for a recently graduated dentist coming into an established practice is very different to another old bull being hired into an established practice, or an established practice employing an associate dentist for a long employment term.

But I digress…

Anyway, recently a mature age dentist that I know well took on a position of assistant dentist in an office, and here’s his question. Sadly, I kind of don’t quite have an answer for him, but I’m sure with time, an answer will arise…

His question to me is:

Where in the office does he stand when it comes to…

1. Other team members, i.e. other younger dentists, younger dental assistants and office staff that have been there some time, and hygienists, long term and short term, and

2. Dental supplies and materials. Those he needs and those he sees being used, let’s say uneconomically, and

3. Working out those times working and time off from his position. Asking for holidays, seminar breaks etc.

Tough questions and tough answers, from both sides of the fence.

I guess we’ve all been recently graduated docs….where we have to fit in in old established practices, often with older, established Dental Assistants. But what about the long-term assistant dentist? Where would he fit in? Also, what about the newly liberated former practice owner…like my friend, what would be your recommendation for him?

You see, my friend had a situation recently where his dental chairside assistant had to duck out of the office mid afternoon to go to do something important. Trouble was, my friend – the associate dentist – was the last in the office to know this, or the last to find out, and had to work out who in the practice he needed to speak to ensure that if this situation arose again, that the process would be seamless next time instead of “awkward”. You see, back in his previous life as a practice owner, my friend would have found out in advance, and made contingency plans. If he had it sprung on him in his old practice, then simply, he would have then dealt with it directly after the fact.

Now, as an associate dentist, he had a small dilemma. Where does he go/who does he go to to correct this behavior/report this occurrence so that it gets dealt with appropriately and doesn’t happen again?

Have you been in this situation, or seen this situation in your office? It’s interesting because there are times as a dental office owner, when the assistant/associate dentist ducks out/ has a day off/week off without asking/telling the owner as well.

What would you do? Where is the court, or the hearing, and who is the judge? Does he go to the principal dentist/owner? Does he go to the senior practice manager? Does he address the concern himself?

It’s a tough one….I welcome your thoughts. In conclusion, I’d like to say this…my friend says that he’s thoroughly enjoying his change of life situation as an associate dentist rather than a dental office owner. He’s absolutely loving it! Enjoying the separation of roles. I guess part of that is that as an experienced dentist, he feels he’s been able to add value, and immediate value, to the production of the practice. And he’s loving the change of life, in that at the end of the day he can just hang up his drill and not have to do all the admin, HR, bill paying…he loves that….and that, is a topic for future articles…that’s for sure!!

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