In an associateship? Here is how to make the most out of it

Associateships come in different forms and nearly none of them come with a handbook of what to expect. We all want our associateships to serve two basic purposes. Enable us to grow as better clinicians and as good leaders. This is why it is very important to be getting the most out of an associateship.

We all want our associateships to serve two basic purposes. Enable us to grow as better clinicians and as good leaders.

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You could go to work daily, participate in the morning huddles, see some patients, seat some crowns, write your notes and then call it a day. However, if you are interested in eventual practice ownership, here are a few things to do that might help you grow rapidly:

Shadowing your owner dentist

Shadow as much as you can, whenever you have any down time. Why? Learning from their communication skills can teach you a lot about human behavior. Make notes on what works with patients and what doesn’t. If your owner dentist is as good as the ones I’ve been fortunate to work with, you will quickly learn why patients keep coming back to them. This will help you formulate your own patient interview skills and get better at gaining case acceptance.

If your owner dentist is as good as the ones I’ve been fortunate to work with, you will quickly learn why patients keep coming back to them.

Watch, learn and design with others

If you are working with CEREC or any other such technology, watch, learn and design with your owner dentist or other associates to see how they achieve better quality restorations. The more you learn, the better and faster you will get. ‘Hey doc, do you have 15 mins, I’d love to share the design of this crown with you. I wanted to get your feedback’

Document your habits

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Notice what instruments you like to use. Make pamphlets detailing your favorite restorative, hygiene or extraction tools, that assistants should bring out to you. Document every procedure you undertake step by step so that if you were to train and hire your own assistant, it is easy. Get consistent with your habits so that assistants can quickly understand how you work and help you be more efficient. Remember, all of this makes their life much more easier.

Feedback from the front office

Ask for feedback from the front office; ‘hey, did patients like me? Would you have had me say something different to them in the back? Teach me how to talk about the insurances we take, which ones pay well and which ones don’t?’ etc. If you have a lot of down time (and you will, as a new associate), shadow your front office manager and see how they process claims, how quickly or slowly they do it and how they collect money. It will teach you how front offices work. It’ll also teach you to respect the owner dentist more. Many work very hard and produce efficiently, but their front offices are unable to collect a 100% of what was produced. This raises the office overhead and reduces income potential.

Many owner dentists work very hard and produce efficiently, but their front offices are unable to collect a 100% of what was produced.

Ask about hiring

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If you have the opportunity to ask your owner dentist questions about hiring, take it. Ask them how they hire assistants, hygienists and other dentists. What were they looking for in each? Ask if you can shadow them during interviews. Most people are impressed with new associates who do this and will be accepting of your interest!

Learn from your dental assistants

Some assistants will spend the time to tell you how to pass instruments over to them or how to position yourself so you don’t block their vision. This is very helpful, because many assistants will just get frustrated and begin resenting you instead. You can always start with something self-deprecating like- ‘Hey, I’ve been told I need to improve the way I work. I want to make sure you can see everything and are comfortable, so please tell me how to improve?’ If you ask them a broad question like ‘Hey how am I doing?’, they will always say you are great! Be specific. Moreover, ask them about case diagnosis and treatment plan presentations. After every exam, ask, ‘Hey, how do you think that went? Do you think I could have phrased things differently? What would you have rather heard as a patient?’ Once your assistants start to trust your work ethic, they will be honest with you and give you a lot of tips!

Ask for a performance evaluation

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Ask your owner dentist for performance evaluations. Evaluations are usually given twice in the first 3 months of hiring and then once a year. You can say, ‘Hey, I’d love to get lunch with you and go over feedback. I feel it is important for me to grow and I want to make sure I am meeting your expectations and improving?’ People love to hear that and will be very supportive of your interest. Schedule this lunch few weeks in advance so they have time to mull over your clinical work and leadership.

Get out of your comfort zone

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A lot of associates (including myself) try to spend most of their first 1 or 2 years doing single tooth dentistry. This is mostly out of fear and embarrassment, ‘What if things go wrong? What if patients say no to treatment?’ Remember, that this is the best time to stumble and learn. Try to work towards quadrant dentistry and strive to break out of your comfort shell. Perform one ‘scary’ procedure every week. This could be a complicated extraction, an implant or a cosmetic case. Plan ahead with your owner dentist so that they can be around to support you on the day of. Owner doctors care a lot about their patients. However, they also want you to succeed. This is an opportunity that most will be willing for you to try.

All the best! Subscribe to the mailing list to get regular updates to blog posts. We have a special post featuring Dr. Stephanie Zeller very soon!

Lastly, if you are looking to build strong business and leadership abilities, consider getting an annual membership to the New Dentist Business Study Club. It will be a 100% web-based and starting in October 2020. More information coming soon!

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