By Jen Butler, MEd, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

July 27, 2018 -- Adding an associate is part of the natural evolution of a dental practice. With this step, the owner-doctor often experiences stress and trepidation as they try and maintain patient goodwill, team engagement, and the practice's production numbers. The owner-dentist has to do all that while fulfilling clinical director and mentor roles for which they likely have no training.

There are common pitfalls to simply acknowledge when bringing on an associate. Rather than ignoring them, be aware so you can proactively address them.

The top three pitfalls owner face in my experience when adding an associate concern diagnosing, case presentation, and staff drama. Below are ways to address and overcome these issues.

1. Doesn't diagnose

It's normal for people to start off slow when taking on a new position. For a doctor, not diagnosing is often their way of building rapport and likability with their new patients.

Jen Butler, MEd
Jen Butler, MEd.

How can this pitfall be overcome? I recommend these three options:

  • Have clinical expectations. Here at JB Partners we call them Clinical Commandments. These are the clinical philosophies established by the owner-doctor that dictate the standard of diagnosing and care all patients receive regardless of provider.
  • Talk with your associate about the normal behavior of holding back because they want to be liked. Let them know you will support them diagnosing from day one and what you will say directly to staff and patients if a concern or complaint is mentioned.
  • Personally introduce the associate to patients and state that you have instructed her or him to be as comprehensive as you would with their care.

2. Poor case presentation

Associate doctors are rarely masters at case presentation. They are either new graduates and never got the training, seasoned dentists that never got the training, or dentists that only took clinical continuing education courses with the thought that if their technical skills were of high quality then patients would be impressed and say yes on merit.

How can this pitfall be overcome? There are three possible ways:

“Associate doctors are rarely masters at case presentation.”
  • Do your own training. If you are at a level of bringing on an associate, you probably have skill in case presentation. Train your associate on how you present.
  • Have your associate spend their first week doing nothing but observing and taking note of how you present. Consistency is great for the team and patients.
  • Hire a personal coach to come in and provide training for your associate in your own environment with live patients. There is absolutely no better learning structure than your own place.

3. Drama with staff

You've had a loyal staff for years. They've worked out the kinks and tensions teams regularly experience while building synergy, and most days are fun to be at work. Now you've got an associate who comes to you weekly with critical feedback of how the staff works, demanding changes, and staff coming to you daily on how they just can't work with this new doctor. People are threatening to quit, and you don't know who to let go or what to do.

How can this pitfall be overcome? I usually recommend these two options:

  • Before your associate starts work in the office, make sure to have a two-day, team-building retreat. It might seem like a lot of time to spend, but it will save you headaches, drama, stress, and money down the road.
  • Have your cultural and team expectations (we call them your Playground Rules) publicly displayed in the staff lounge, and make sure everyone is adhering to them. These rules dictate staff behavior toward each other that supports the business purpose and core values.

Adding an associate doctor might be what it takes to get your practice to the next level, and it doesn't have to be stressful for anyone. Accept there are potential pitfalls and have a strategic plan laid out ahead of time on how you plan to overcome them.

Jen Butler, MEd, is the CEO and founder of JB Partners. For business coaching and consulting, leadership, and stress management services, contact her at jen@JenButlerPartners.com.

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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