Is the associate dentist model desirable?

Last week, we asked our audience for their thoughts on whether the associate dentist model is desirable – find out what was said below.

Dentistry’s Big Questions is a brand new feature exploring the hot topics of the profession.

Last week’s question was: Is the associate dentist model desirable? Based on our poll, 67% said yes, and 33% said no.

Hear what the dental profession said below…

Scroll to the bottom for next week’s Big Question.

Rachel Dilley, practice manager

Dentistry for me is best led by a multidisciplinary approach. Every person within the team has a role to play – each team member helps builds the practice.

Dental associates within our model are one of the keys to our sustainability. They are talented, passionate and knowledgeable. We encourage our associates to thrive in their career and support them to achieve their own success, which in return allows the best patient care and treatments within our practice.

Manrina Rhode, practice principal

Yes! Having worked as an associate for 18 years before setting up my business, I can’t stress enough what a great lifestyle being an associate offers. It gives you the freedom to do what you love (assuming clinical dentistry is what you love), without the stress of the day-to-day running of the business.

It gives the individual a chance to earn a great income while still choosing their own hours. I personally worked three clinical days a week throughout my 30’s. This meant I was ‘off’ more than I was ‘on’. I earned an income that allowed me to pursue my hobbies and keep my stress levels down and my quality of life up.

Personally, I love to travel, read and exercise. I worked out at least four times a week. I also went away for long weekends almost monthly and read to my heart’s content. It allowed me to build my personal brand and excel clinically, keeping up with current updates with all the spare time I had. It also allowed me to give my patients my best on the three days I worked.

Work-life balance

As an associate you only ever earn – working doesn’t ever cost you anything. You don’t have the overheads associated with being a principal. At one point I wanted to pursue an acting career and working part time as an associate allowed me to also do this without having to worry about earning from my acting interest.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting owning my own clinic and it has allowed me to grow and acquire a range of skills outside of dentistry that I didn’t have before. It also means I’m able to perform my dentistry in exactly the environment I want with the team and equipment I want. However, there is a price to pay for this luxury. If you need to run your own business because you are more business-minded than clinically-minded, or if you have a fire inside you that means you need to open your own space, then you definitely should.

Equally, working as an associate affords you a great work-life balance that, as dentists, I believe we should be grateful for. 

Cerise Harriss, practice principal

With work-life balance being at the forefront of most career decisions, is it better to be an associate rather than practice principal? 

Of course there are always two sides of every coin. However, considering how dentistry is evolving, current trends in the associate business model make it the more favourable choice. 

From experience, I find that as regulations and litigation become more prevalent, associates are finding themselves spending more and more of their clinical time note writing and treatment planning. But with more associates choosing to do less clinical time and having protected admin time, they are able to finish their day and not take their work home with them. Perhaps the associate model is still a traditional 9-5?

No overheads

Associates, despite being self-employed, expect the latest technology such as scanners and equipment, and the best materials. And practices provide it so associates have no overheads, no finance on large pieces of equipment and they do not have to invest in any marketing. They also have a nursing and reception team provided alongside patients! 

As a practice principal, the administrative work never stops – reliance on staff for practice efficiency, the ever changing HR, policies and regulations, and increasing running costs. Unless principals are in a very fortunate situation at the time of purchase, principals will not see return on their investment for a many years after initial purchase. It is now a thankless task owning a practice.

I think that in the near future we will see more salaried associate positions in the private sector, which I believe will make the associate dentist model the most favourable of all. 

Ahmed Hussain, practice principal

Working as an associate under a supportive dentist who may also offer mentorship is desirable in my opinion.

You’ll be able to purely focus on improving your skills without the need to worry about all of the hassles of running a business and improving your work-life balance.

I’m lucky to be working alongside passionate and highly skilled associates who inspire me everyday! That’s said, it isn’t for everyone, but desirable? Yes!

Alan Clarke, practice owner

As a practice owner, the dentist associate model gives tremendous flexibility for self employed associates and allows real growth potential, not limited by salary- and workplace-set objectives.

You can pivot to find the type of dentistry you enjoy and follow that, but also as part of a team you can learn from others and case share to achieve even better outcomes for the patient!

I don’t think it is perfect as a system; a more structured approach may be better for growth. However, it needs that real open conversation to look at what both parties want to achieve and how best each supports the other to get there!

What are your thoughts? Email [email protected]

The next Big Question is: Should the scope of practice for clinical dental technicians be expanded?

What do you think? Let’s get a discussion going – email your thoughts to [email protected] to feature in our follow-up article in which we will share the views from across the profession.

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