Whether you just graduated from dental school, finished a residency program or specialty training, the majority of young dentists begin their careers as associates. The road to becoming an associate is full of variables, and knowing the ‘lay of the land’ can help you make wise decisions. The journey begins with choosing the practice that is right for you.
If you want to join a practice as a full-time associate and have adequate patient volume for yourself, you need to join a practice that is “saturated.” Saturation means that the owner is working at optimum speed, practicing optimum hours, is scheduled fully, six to eight weeks in advance, and has more new patients in the practice than can be cared for.
By joining a “saturated” practice, you have an immediate opportunity to gain clinical experience and enhance your income. Additionally, saturated practices afford greater opportunities to build a patient base. A saturated practice may also offer long-term opportunity in the form of an equity interest or potential buy-out.
Usually, general practices with more than 1,700 active patients are at the saturation point. An active patient is one who visits the practice at least once during the past 18 months for a recare visit. The degree of saturation, or the number of excess patients in a practice, will determine the actual opportunity for you to work as a full-time or part-time associate. For example, an efficient and skilled owner who is servicing 1,700 patients with a full-time workload may want to reduce hours and transfer patients to a part–time associate. Generally, practices with 2,500 or more patients present excellent full-time opportunities for new associates.
Therefore, if you are considering a full-time associateship, be sure to inquire about the size of the active patient base.
Snyder, DMD, MBA, Tom (2009, Summer). Becoming an Associate…What You Need to Know. the NEW DENTIST™ Magazine, 20-21.