Entering an Associateship: Tips and FAQs

Two out of three dental graduates choose to enter an existing practice rather than start their own.  Why?

  • It’s less expensive than starting a new practice.
  • It’s transition friendly.
  • It’s less stressful than running a practice.

Entering an associateship is not an easy decision. You need to have a thorough understanding of the agreement that you and the owner dentist enter. These tips and frequently-asked questions will help you get the most of the experience. 

In general, what can I expect from an associateship?

A 2004 Survey by the American Dental Association Survey Center gathered the following information on common aspects of associateships.

  • Compensation: On average, full-time associates were earning a net income of $112,270 per year, $117,130 per year for specialists (based on national average).
  • Method of compensation: Varied by contract. Some dentists received an annual salary while others received a percentage of production or an hourly wage.
  • Benefits: Varied by contract. Some common benefits included health insurance, malpractice insurance, paid vacation, paid membership dues in organized dentistry and reimbursement for continuing education.
  • Duration: Terms range from 1 year to 10 years or more. The average term for an agreement was 1.7 years.
  • Legal detail: The vast majority of contracts contained conditions for contract termination, payment methods, and a “non-compete” agreement.

Other important components include: 

  • A formal contract: Every associateship should involve a formal contract between the prospective associate and the practitioner. The contract should describe, in detail, legal elements such as the associate’s obligations, remuneration and expenses, employer’s property, etc. As the next section shows, it is vital to understand every aspect of this agreement.
  • An employment attorney: Graduates considering an associateship should anticipate and hire an employment attorney to review the conditions of the associateship contract.

How should I evaluate an associateship contract?

Careful evaluation of the contract is critical. You do not want to rush into the agreement and later discover that you dislike or were unaware of the implications of its formal provisions.  Common components you will encounter include employee status; term and time of contract; remuneration and expenses; obligations of associate; obligations of employer; termination of agreements; non-competition and non-solicitation; potential buy-out; probationary period; right of first refusal; and marketing materials. Be sure you understand each of these elements. If necessary, consult a legal dictionary. Also, make sure you have a legal advisor who can guide you through the contract and help you make a decision that it is in your best interest.

What advice would other graduates who have undergone this procedure provide?

  • Consult others with experience.
  • Contact dentists in your area to see associateship contracts they have signed. Use successful contracts as a model for your own.
  • Consult a legal advisor who is familiar with evaluating dental contracts.
  • Learn to talk figures with people. Don’t be afraid to ask blunt questions about your salary requirements and preferred methods of payment.

How can I search for an associateship?

Are there any other printed resources on associateships you would recommend?

  • Download the ADA Infopak on Associateships.
  • Use the ADA Catalog to order Associateships: A Guide for Owners and Prospective Associates.