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The Key Issues that Associate Dentists Have with Owners and Their Practices

Updated: Jun 30

The dynamic relationship between Associate Dentists and Practice Owners plays a crucial role in the success and harmony of a dental practice. While many practices maintain a positive and collaborative environment, it’s common for Associate Dentists to encounter challenges and issues with owners and their practices. Identifying and addressing these is essential to creating and maintaining an effective working environment. This article will discuss some of the more frequent issues we see happening.

Communication Breakdown:

One of the most common issues that Associate Dentists face is a breakdown in communication with Practice Owners. Lack of clear communication regarding the practice’s expectations, protocols, and patient care can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, and a negative work environment. Effective communication channels, regular team meetings, and open dialogue are essential to prevent such problems.

Unclear Expectations and Roles:

Associate Dentists may feel unsure about their roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations within the practice. Clarity regarding clinical tasks, patient management, treatment planning, and practice protocols is crucial to ensure that Associate Dentists align with the practices they are part of.

Limited Autonomy and Decision-Making:

Some Associate Dentists may feel they need more autonomy in making clinical decisions or treatment plans, particularly in their early years. A lack of trust in their professional judgment can lead to dissatisfaction and hinder their ability to provide optimal patient care in their eyes. Rather than micro-manage, practice owners should foster an environment that supports and empowers Associate Dentists to make informed decisions within established guidelines and practice philosophies. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but increasing autonomy will enhance the Associate’s job satisfaction and patient care.

Compensation and Benefits:

Issues related to compensation and benefits can create significant tension between Associate Dentists and Practice Owners. Associate Dentists may feel undervalued or taken advantage of if compensation structures need to be clearer, more fair, and aligned with industry standards. Resentment can build, and such arrangements are often counterproductive, acting as a disincentive to production and reducing their contribution to practice culture. Transparent compensation discussions, clear contractual agreements, and a fair compensation structure are critical to maintaining a long-term positive relationship.

Professional Development Implementation:

Associate Dentists are often eager to advance their skills and knowledge through continuing education and professional development opportunities. A significant source of frustration comes when Associates invest in courses to learn skills but practice materials, equipment and systems don’t support their subsequent implementation. To avoid this, it is recommended that conversations between Associates and Practice Owners occur before these purchases to ensure an ability to implement them effectively. There is nothing worse than an Associate leaving a course motivated and inspired for treatment, only to be told the practice doesn’t have what they need or refuses to purchase it.

Patient Flow and Scheduling Issues:

Efficient patient flow and proper scheduling are crucial for a successful practice. Associate Dentists may need help with overbooked schedules with adequate time for each patient. These issues can leave the Associate feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, impacting both patient care quality and stress levels. Conversely, too much time for patients or inconsistent patient flow will impact the Associate’s production and bottom line, which is also frustrating and upsetting. It is important that transparent time management conversations occur with Associates on an individual level to ensure a suitable balance between efficiency, production and patient care.

Limited Involvement in Practice Decisions:

Associate Dentists often have valuable insights and suggestions for practice improvements. When they are excluded from practice-related decisions, it can lead to feelings of being undervalued and disengaged. Suitably Involving Associate Dentists in discussions about practice operations and initiatives fosters a sense of ownership and collaboration, which increases their affinity for the practice and increases the chance of them remaining long-term.

Work-Life Balance:

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for both Associate Dentists and Practice Owners. However, Associate Dentists may feel pressured to take on excessive workloads or work longer hours, which can deleteriously affect their well-being. Practice Owners should be mindful of this when creating practice schedules, as well as monitoring signs for signs and symptoms of burnout in those Associates that may be susceptible. Promoting the importance of work-life balance in giving your best to your patients is also advisable.

Practice Culture and Values:

A misalignment between an Associate Dentists’ values and those of the practice can create tension and dissatisfaction. If an Associate Dentist feels that the practice’s values resonate with their own, they may need help to engage fully or provide patient care that aligns with their beliefs. Practice Owners should foster a positive and inclusive practice culture that embraces diversity of thought and values. That said, a true mismatch may be irreconcilable, and the Associate may be better suited and happier working in a practice that embodies the same values and sentiments.

Conflict Resolution and Feedback:

Unresolved conflicts or ineffective feedback mechanisms can create tension between Owners and Associates. A culture that encourages open discussions, constructive feedback, and conflict resolution promotes a positive work environment and prevents misunderstandings. Associates need to know how to proceed when issues arise.

Recognition and Acknowledgment:

Recognition and acknowledgment of an Associate Dentist’s contribution is essential for maintaining morale and job satisfaction. Associate Dentists may feel undervalued if their efforts go unnoticed or unappreciated, which may impact motivation. Practice Owners should regularly recognise and celebrate their Associate Dentists’ achievements and hard work. The impact of this cannot be underestimated.

The relationship between Associate Dentists and the Practice Owner is a delicate balance that requires open communication, mutual respect, and a shared commitment to both their individual success and the success of the practice.

By addressing key issues such as communication, autonomy, and compensation and supporting the implementation of professional development training, Practice Owners can create a supportive and nurturing environment where Associate Dentists thrive, provide exceptional patient care, and contribute to the growth and success of themselves and the practice.


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