3 questions to ask before hiring an associate

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To you, it's clear. It's time to hire an associate. You can't keep up with your schedule, and you're constantly stressed out. Hiring an associate will relieve some of that burden, giving you more time to spend with patients and more time outside the practice.

While hiring an associate might seem like the answer to all your problems, it could actually do your practice more harm than good. Before you begin searching for that perfect match, take a step back and ask yourself these three questions. You might find you don't need to make this addition to your practice after all.

Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management.Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management.

1. Why are you busy?

In other words, are you busy because you have too many patients or because your systems are a mess?

When you neglect your systems, it sends your practice into chaos -- and creates the illusion you have more patients than you can handle. If you're feeling overworked, take a look at your systems and make any necessary changes or updates. This will help your practice run more smoothly, which could mean you don't need to hire an associate after all.

2. Do you have enough patients?

That is, enough patients to keep you and an associate busy and also support the two of you as well as the practice.

Remember, a healthy solo practice sees 25 new patients a month, with 85% of those patients accepting treatment, according to industry data. So if you're thinking about bringing on an associate, you should be attracting at a minimum 30 to 35 new patients to your practice a month. If you're not, hiring an associate just doesn't make sense.

3. What do you expect from your associate?

OK, you've done the math and decided you really do need to hire an associate. Great. While you're probably excited to bring this new producer on, don't just hire the first dentist who impresses you. Find someone who shares your philosophy of care and who is the right fit for your practice.

“You have to keep in mind the associate you hire isn't taking the job to fix your practice.”

I hate to be the one to tell you, but most doctor/associate relationships simply don't work out. It's mainly because of unclear or mismatched needs and expectations. Hiring dentists typically see associates as extensions of themselves, and they expect them to get up to speed and produce quickly -- as well as to fix all their problems. Sorry, but it typically doesn't work that way.

You have to keep in mind that the associate you hire isn't taking the job to fix your practice. Your new associate is likely coming into the arrangement with $250,000 or more of debt and is looking for a stable practice. This young dentist wants to learn from you and gain valuable experience, not put out fires and spend time trying to fix your broken systems.

If this is your expectation, both you and the associate will end up disappointed. Not only that, your associate won't have much time to produce in this type of environment -- meaning this important hire isn't doing much to boost practice productivity and profits.

I recommend you talk with the associate you plan to hire about goals and expectations from the very beginning. This will help ensure you're both on the same page, avoiding confusion and frustration down the road.

The truth is, hiring an associate is one of the most important decisions you'll make during your career. Not only will it cost you thousands of dollars, the person you hire could become your partner one day, so it's vital you get it right.

First, make sure you actually need an associate and then find someone who fits with your practice. Take the time to discuss goals and expectations and you'll both get the most out of the arrangement -- leading to less stress for you and an opportunity for growth for the associate.

Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service, nationwide dental practice management company. Contact her directly at 877-777-6151 or at [email protected].

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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