In my more than 30 years as a dental consultant, I’ve seen many late-career dentists make this mistake. They know they’re going to retire in a few years, so they start scaling back and only treating the cases they actually enjoy. Of course that brings practice revenues down but they’re not worried; they’re going to hire an associate to help pick up the slack.
Unfortunately, that plan often backfires. Associates don’t join a practice so they can take on those unpleasant cases you’d rather not deal with. These young dentists are eager to learn and start bringing in money so they can pay off their dental school debt. They’re looking for a mentor, not someone who already has one foot out the door.
Let me give you a scenario of just how bad this can be. I once talked with a dentist who was bringing in $800,000 a year. Not bad, right? That number dropped to $300,000, with the same overhead expenses mind you, just because the dentist decided to take on fewer cases and to rely on his new associate to produce more. It didn’t work out that way. As you might imagine, the associate became overwhelmed and frustrated with the situation and ended up leaving the practice.
The bottom line is this: Associates aren’t there to fix broken systems or to handle the cases you don’t enjoy. They’re there to grow as a dentist, as well as to contribute to practice production and success. Yes, they can help relieve the burden if you have more patients than you can handle on your own, but you have to make sure that’s actually the case before hiring—and then take the proper steps to ensure you find the best match. If you don’t, both your practice and the associate will suffer in the long run.