Dental student nearing graduation or newer dentist? Find the right career opportunity for you!

February 23, 2016|Amanda Falkowski

Nearing graduation, your practice goals may be unclear and your search may seem daunting with all of the various types of practice opportunities out there. When trying to determine where to start or what type of opportunity to select, there are many things to consider. First, narrow down your own particular practice goals, ideally considering your short- and long-term goals. Keep in mind, what is right for your peers is not always right for you. Always review many options before settling on an opportunity. There is no better way to find out what you are looking for than by reviewing many practice situations and settings to identify the best scenario for you and your goals, and know there are many practice opportunities out there for you to compare and consider.

As a new graduate, you may want (and need) to gain more clinical experience, increase your speed and production, and learn the business aspects of dentistry. Many consider an associateship as “on-the-job” training with the opportunity to be mentored by an experienced dentist, while being able to finally earn a decent income and begin to pay down student loan debt. You may simply wish to earn an income and try various practices before you find one you will eventually want to buy into or purchase.

Keep in mind there is no better time to look for an opportunity than now. Once you are practicing, it becomes a lot more difficult to look at other options, to ensure your search is kept confidential and to work around non-competes or restrictive covenants and other obstacles. Also, there is no better time to negotiate your offer than now, and there are many points to leverage and negotiate in the offer.

As you search for your new position post-graduation (be it an associateship, employee dentist in a group, DMO or corporate type of setting, public health, a partnership/buy-in opportunity), or if you are planning to purchase a practice (yes, it is possible to do this right out of school), consider these factors before and during the hiring process to ensure success for everyone involved.

Key things to consider before deciding which type of dental practice to join:

Clearly identify, define and evaluate your practice and lifestyle goals (short-term and especially long-term goals). Factors to take into consideration include:

  • Geography and location: Where do you and your spouse or significant other want to live and grow roots? Most associate opportunities will require a non-compete or restrictive covenant agreement, so this is a key factor to consider and negotiate. With that, make sure your non-compete/restrictive covenant agreement is fair and reasonable for all parties involved, especially if this is not a place where you know you will buy into or eventually purchase. Have an experienced professional, preferably an attorney familiar with dental contracts, review your non-compete/restrictive covenant, as well as your entire contract, employment agreement or offer. There are many other things to consider such as the population, patient base to draw from, other dentists in the community and more.
  • Spouse or significant other career considerations: Does your spouse or significant other have professional career or personal needs that must be considered? Address this as you are exploring opportunities, and ask what the prospective practice can do to assist in a job search for your spouse or significant other.
  • Practice type: What type of practice do you want to be in for the long term? There are many practice settings: private practice (group or solo), DSO – dental service organization/corporate dentistry or large group practice (private or multi-owner, investment owned and many other models exist), public health or community health clinic, military, and more. Consider what type of practice setting matches your long-term goals. If you start in a practice just to gain some experience, it can become difficult to leave that practice, or you get comfortable and find yourself “stuck” in that situation far longer than initially desired or needed.
  • What is most important for you to obtain from your new associateship right out of school?
    • Is this a stepping stone or transition position where you are looking to gain experience and pay down some debt and save some money until you are ready to buy into or buy out a practice?
    • Are you looking for a mentor? Be sure you align yourself with a dentist who wishes to be a mentor and will train you well clinically. You’ll also want to find someone with whom you want to align yourself as far as personality, practice style, ethics, goals and ideals.
  • Practice ownership options: Ownership has MANY models. Do you want to be partner or own a practice by yourself and what is your timeframe? Or do you wish to always remain an associate/employee or independent contractor and work for someone else, not bothering with the business aspects of practice ownership?
    • If your goal is to eventually be a practice owner or partner, consider finding a practice that will provide you with the mentorship opportunity both clinically and from a business perspective to put yourself in the best position to move into an ownership scenario sooner than later. The sooner you align yourself with this possibility, the easier it is to make it a reality. Finding the right mentor and private practice is critical.
    • You can join a practice where you will be able to buy in and remain a partner long-term. Consider how much ownership you will have (50/50, 51/49, etc.). Or, you can find a situation where you will eventually buy out the current owner. Also consider the timeframe. Do you want to buy out immediately, in a few months, gradually or fully over time? If you are going to buy out a practice in transition, make sure the plan is discussed, detailed and written out with clear goals for both parties. Identify what will happen and when, and make certain that you have input and can negotiate a mutually fair scenario for all.
  • Salary: The average annual salary for a new associate out of dental school is a set guaranteed base of $120,000-$150,000. Other compensation is often included, such as a percentage of net or gross production or collections. Also often included are benefits, quarterly or annual production bonus, a sign-on bonus, student loan repayment and more. Be sure you are aware of all the options that can be included in an offer and negotiate up front. The best time to negotiate is before you sign an offer, contract or agreement.
  • Practice metrics and environment: Is it a stable, flowing environment with experienced, tenured and trained staff or a chaotic turmoil environment with much change? Be sure to align yourself with a stable, growing practice where there is an abundance of patients and an actual current need for a new dentist. There are exact numbers and metrics the practice should consider before they should bring on another dentist—especially if there will be two or more doctors practicing simultaneously in the practice—such as number of active patients, new patients per month per dentist, what the practice is grossing annually, what procedures the practice does or refers out, what days and hours they are operating and more. Adding a new dentist who can and will do additional procedures, work additional days and hours to complement the current schedule should all be considered to grow a new patient base.

This is an important time for soon-to-be dentists and many factors to evaluate and consider. Often, new dentists are unsure of what options exist, how to identify them and how to navigate their career and practice search.

To find an opportunity that helps you meet your goals, or for assistance in making your dental placement successful, contact Amanda Falkowski at or any member of the Dental Advisory Group at Schenck at 800-236-2246.

Amanda Falkowski is a Practice Consultant with Schenck’s Dental Advisory Group. She has more than 15 years of recruiting and human resource experience and assists dentists who are looking for practice opportunities and guides practice owners in the recruitment of associates, identifying a partner and preparing for practice transition or sale.

Tags: Dentists