Keys to Finding and Bringing on An Associate Dentist

When a dentist has a vision of a successful practice transition – a strategic transfer of ownership over a period of time – one of the biggest challenges is getting out of the starting gate, so to speak.

In terms of practice transitions, that means successfully finding and then integrating a new associate into the practice. Arguably, this is the step in the transition process where the most mistakes by the owner dentist are made.

To identify why those mistakes are made, it helps to fi rst discuss the successful integration of a selected associate into the practice, and then discuss best practices in search and selection of the associate dentist.

Of course, the fundamental human variable leads dentists to ask themselves continually: “Will this new associate work out?” One of the greatest fears and, therefore, hesitations of the owner dentist to consider a practice transition is based on what they have heard about the failure rate. Yet, ironically, the failure rate is primarily due to the fact that the owner dentist didn’t bother to prepare themselves with a written transition plan!

Without an effective written plan to integrate the associate into the practice, all essential work on the structure of the deal won’t help. Without a doubt, the dentists who enjoy the most success through the changes that naturally accompany bringing on an associate dentist are the ones who focus on not just the mechanics of the deal, but getting themselves mind-ready and practice-ready for the new associate.

By creating the right enabling practice environment, an owner dentist can accomplish a few immensely important things, including providing enhanced and ideal comprehensive care for your patients, and, over time, narrowing the clinical gap between you and the new dentist.

At Mercer Transitions, it is all about taking the anxiety out of the human variable by taking control of the process. It’s about enabling this new, important person in your life to be their best. It’s about mentorship and guidance.

1.INTRODUCE THE NEW DENTIST WITH VALUE. Start with introducing the new dentist to patients in the office, especially those who are coming back to the practice from a reactivation strategy. Make sure the associate’s presence is felt throughout the practice – place their picture beside yours on the wall, for example – and make sure the team knows how to talk to patients about the new doctor.

Additionally, we recommend sending a heartfelt letter to the patients announcing the new dentist, as well as announcing the new dentist via social media. You should also consider holding an open house as a way of introducing the new dentist.

Make sure to express how lucky you are to have him or her, what it means for the practice and how the new doctor will enhance patient care.

2. GIVE THE DENTIST OPPORTUNITIES TO GET TO KNOW THE PATIENTS. Having the new dentist perform hygiene duties is a great, time honored way to get to know your patients, and to address their clinical needs in a low-pressure, low-anxiety atmosphere. Typically, these hygiene duties are performed on patients that you are reactivating into the practice, and it is an ideal way for the associate to grow relationships while you grow the active patient base.

3. PAIR THE NEW DENTIST WITH YOUR BEST ASSISTANT. Pairing the new doctor with your most efficient veteran staffer is the quickest way to get the newcomer up to speed and enrolled in the efficiencies that you’ve built in the practice. It also maintains continuity in the eyes of the patients, who will still see a familiar face. Assigning your assistant in this way sends a strong message to the new dentist that you are serious about enabling their success.

4. ESTABLISH EXPECTATIONS FOR REPORTING. Time flies when we’re having fun. It is amazing how much time can go by quickly with no ongoing, meaningful constructive discussions between both dentists. The lack of this structure and unconditional commitment by the owner to do this without a doubt can create a drifting away of the relationship between both dentists, and lack of clarity about what is expected of them. And unmet expectations lead to frustration for both parties, and often signals the beginning of the end of the relationship. There should be a structure for reporting to each other regularly – meeting once a month for a few hours, and quarterly for a half or full day. At Mercer Transitions we drive home the importance of this with our clients by having coaching calls with both dentists together on a regular basis during their working trial period.

Associate Search
Once you are committed to doing a practice transition, the obvious initial step after you have your written strategic transition plan is to find the right associate. Admittedly, this can be a challenge, particularly in certain markets.

Typical efforts, at best, are casual in nature, which often means the owner dentist networking among peers. A step beyond this is to advertise in the local county society and state association journals, perhaps the ADA publications, and any close-proximity dental schools. Yet another step beyond these efforts is to hire a professional dental associate recruiter, or headhunter, if you will. These professionals typically charge a five-figure fee for their efforts.

The common thread with these efforts is that they are usually contained and restricted to a local or, at best, regional effort. But owner dentists never know where the ideal person is at the point in time when they start their search! The reality is, the right candidate may not be in their backyard, so to speak. At Mercer Transitions, we are contacted on a regular basis by dentists coming out of the military, out of corporate dentistry, out of residency programs, and from private practices who are inquiring about opportunities in other states. One recent email came from a dentist coming out of a dental school in Southern California looking for an opportunity near where she grew up in Kentucky.

The lesson here is that your search needs to be a full-court press; a full-scale national search. Toward that end, Patterson Dental, through the acquisition of Mercer Transitions and with it the Transdent website, has enhanced and re-launched the site as Patterson Connect. In essence, Patterson Connect is a match-making site for dentists, professionally speaking. It is a proven, very powerful search engine for owner dentists to find associates, and vice versa. It’s strictly for dentists, and hundreds of matches have occurred through the site as part of the robust and comprehensive Associate Recruiting service that Mercer Transitions offers.

The Associate Recruiting service is a great resource, and an opportunity to consider whether you are just looking for an associate to help with the workload as an employee on a permanent basis, or as part of an intended practice transition with the right person. The great thing is that it requires a substantially lower investment than what dental associate recruiting firms typically charge.

Anyone who brings a new dentist on board with this kind of strategic thinking, support and attention to detail is far more likely to enjoy a successful transition than someone who wings it and takes a more free-form approach. Do this right and you not only minimize the risk of the human variable, you supercharge your transition and create lasting prosperity for everyone involved.


Mike Elster, National Manager
Mike Elster is the National Manager for Mercer Transitions, a division of Patterson Dental, and has more than 20 years of industry experience. He has coached thousands of dentists on identifying and optimizing their practice growth, and finding opportunities for a successful, win-win transition.

Mike and his team are the “initial diagnosticians” on the Patterson Connect team. He ensures that all initial inquiries about Mercer Transitions services are addressed with an initial phone consultation and works with clients during that first consultation to discover what the vision and goals of the practice owner are, determine if a practice transition is a fit, and if so, what that would look like for the specific needs of the doctor.

Contact Mercer Transitions today for a complimentary phone consultation. 800.444.6162 | PRACTICETRANSITIONS@PATTERSONDENTAL.COM