For Practice Owners: Finding Associates in the New Business of Dentistry Reality

For Private Practice Owners:


Michael Elster has more than 20 years of industry experience and has coached thousands of dentists on identifying and optimizing their practice growth, as well as opportunities for a successful, win-win practice transition.

Here, he sheds light on the challenges of the search for high-quality associate dentists.

During the many conversations that Patterson team members have with private practice owners who need an associate dentist, they find that most dentists do not have the necessary clarity about how the business of dentistry environment has changed, the unique challenges they will face, and the actions required that they will need to take. This article seeks to provide that clarity.


The presence of both dental service organizations (DSOs) and middle-market players (those who own more than one practice, but not at the DSO level) has made it challenging for private practice owners to find associates. Both the DSOs and the middle-market providers are constantly searching for associates because they are acquiring more practices and because of occasional associate turnover.

Another macro condition is the Age Wave phenomenon in the United States, led by the Baby Boomers. Many private practice owners (between 54 and 72 years old) are at a point in their lives and careers where they want more life balance (time off), and they want to do more of the dentistry that they prefer doing. Thus the demand for associate dentists among this group is high. And because of the Baby Boomers, there is the highest percentage of private practice owners ever in this age group!


In my discussions with the newer generation of dentists, they have expressed a desire to live and work in large metropolitan markets/cities. They also have very specific parameters for their commute; generally speaking, they do not want to drive more than 30 to 45 minutes to work. The greater the distance outside of those parameters, the greater the challenge for private practice owners to find an associate who is committed to staying in the area for the long-term.

Let this serve as a major wake-up call for private practice owners located in middle-sized and smaller markets. Due to these forces, finding high-quality associates will typically require a greater effort and more expansive reach than private practice owners have been used to.


All of these factors have led to a greater presence of associate search service providers. You have heard them called “head-hunters,” “recruiting firms,” and “placement companies.” Not surprisingly, several now specialize in looking for general dentists to work in private dental                                                                  practices (and DSO and middle- market practices as well).The good ones can provide clients with national search efforts. You never know where your ideal associate might be, so what’s most important is where they want to practice, not where they might be located when you need one.

The pricing model for these services is either a flat fee- for-service or a percentage of associate’s first year’s income (not recommended). You should expect to pay a finder’s fee of between $10,000 and $15,000 for the flat fee-for-service providers if they find a candidate that you choose to hire.


No matter how highly regarded one of these providers may be, they should always be considered as a supplemental, additional resource to your own local, constant networking efforts. Never underestimate the power of networking.

Local resources for your associate search include:

*your Patterson rep

*any specialists that you refer patients to colleagues at study clubs (and therefore study club colleagues) that you participate in

*any dental school classmates you might still be in touch with, even if it is just holiday card exchanges, regardless of where they might be located.

You never know who other people might know and where those other people (associate dentists looking for a job and a transition opportunity) are located when you need one.


The practice transitions division at Patterson Dental, known as Mercer Transitions, has two associate search effort services. Both have considerably lower pricing than recruiting, head-hunting, or placement firms. Each uses an advertising platform owned by Patterson Dental that contains many useful tools and resources in addition to the résumés and profiles of associate candidates specifically looking for opportunities in areas around the country.

More information is available on the Patterson Connect website at www.

Whether you are a younger practice owner who has grown your practice so successfully that you need help keeping up with patient needs and to allow you to spend more quality time with patients, or whether you are an older practice owner who wants more life balance and to do more of the dentistry you prefer, having a relationship with an associate dentist can be the appropriate solution if done correctly.