How to Recruit And Mentor Your Next Dental Associate

As you build a thriving dental practice, sooner or later you may consider hiring an associate. Recruiting, hiring, and mentoring your new associate impacts all aspects of your practice– you’ll want to get this right the first time.

Success depends on choosing the right associate at the right time in your practice’s life. With another associate, you can expand your patient base while continuing to provide excellent care and service. 

Dr. Rollin Sarradet, Chief Dental Officer of Apex Dental Partners, has over 25 years of experience recruiting, hiring, and onboarding new associates. Through experience and strategy, he gained insights that we’re sharing to benefit you, whether you are hiring your first associate or your tenth.

According to Dr. Sarradet, the first step to hiring success is knowing when you need another associate.

Generally, there are two seasons in which a practice may need a new associate:

1. Seasons of Growth: Your practice is so busy that one doctor cannot handle the workload alone. You struggle to keep up with your growing practice, and hiring a hygienist or assistant is no longer adequate.

2. Seasons of Transition: The primary doctor or partners are seeking to transition into a new role or retirement in the near future.

Hiring an Associate During a Season of Growth

“The biggest mistake is hiring an associate when you don’t have the patient base to support it,” Dr. Sarradet explained.

Sometimes dentists mistakenly believe that hiring a new associate means they will be able to work fewer hours while earning more money. However, hiring too soon cuts into your own livelihood if your practice doesn’t have the patient base to support another associate.

While your new associate should actively work to build his or her own patient base, they need to start from a position of strength with your practice’s existing patients. Otherwise, you’ll spend most of your revenue paying your new associate, while your own income shrinks.

Before beginning the search for a new associate, it’s important to determine if your practice has met and maintained the minimum growth standards to justify a new practitioner. The following metrics will help you determine if now is the time to start recruiting.

 1.  A Booked Hygiene Schedule

 2.  Sustained Treatment Room Revenue

 3.  Consistent New Patients Every Month

 4.  High Treatment Acceptance from Existing Patients

 5.  A Strong Referral Rate from Patients and Peers

1. Is Your Hygiene Calendar Fully Booked?

Dr. Sarradet suggests looking closely at how far out your hygiene appointments are scheduled. For example, if you have two hygienists who are fully booked six, seven, eight, or more months in advance, this is a sign that you have an active and consistent patient base.

A full hygiene calendar may also be a sign that you have too much work for one dentist alone. Ask yourself:

      • Are you struggling to keep up with routine examinations?
      • Is patient care compromised because you have difficulty providing timely care?
      • Are you scheduling beyond your normal working hours to accommodate your patient flow?

2. Is Your Treatment Room Revenue Adequate?

If your practice earns more than $30,000 per treatment room each month, you may be in a position to consider adding an associate. Unfortunately, treatment room revenue is a common metric with many variables so one size doesn’t always fit all. Dr. Sarradet added that $30,000 can be considered average for many regions so depending on where you live, you may need to hold out for a higher monthly earnings level such as $50,000 per treatment room.

Ask yourself:

      • What is your monthly overhead per treatment room?
      • Is each treatment room currently running at capacity?
      • Would adding an assistant or hygienist meet your capacity needs?
      • Are you able to keep up with new patient examinations?

3. Are You Consistently Onboarding New Patients?

New patients are a direct indicator of practice growth. Exactly how many new patients you need however, depends on many variables, including the life stage of your practice, the scope of dentistry being done in-office, the complexity of cases, etc. For a more traditional office we recommend 30 – 40 new patients a month for each full-time dentist as a good metric for growth. 

If your hygiene bookings, treatment room revenue, and new patient growth look healthy, consider these last few indicators of growth. If your team is struggling to hit this target for new patients, you should likely re-examine your marketing strategy.

4. Is Your Treatment Acceptance Rate High Enough?

Treatment acceptance rate refers to the percentage of patients who agree to follow their recommended treatment plan.

An acceptance rate of around 80% or higher indicates a strong and loyal patient base. A lower acceptance rate indicates you may need to work on building trust and better educating existing patients on the value of treatment. Please note, a new associate will likely lower your acceptance rate initially, but it will grow as patients learn to trust in the new dentist’s knowledge and expertise.

5. Do You Have A Strong Referral Rate?

A high new patient referral rate is a sure sign of a team with loyal patients. Patients referred to your practice should make up a minimum of 40% of your total new patients each month. Not only does this demonstrate new patients are coming in, but it also reflects the faith that your current patients and professional peers have in your practice.

If your referral rate is low, consider cultivating your various referral streams by:

      • Offering a referral program.
      • Boosting your web presence by asking for patient reviews on social media.
      • Staying top-of-mind by creating a monthly newsletter or sending birthday emails to your patient base.
      • Expanding your network by marketing to other healthcare providers in your area.
      • Giving outstanding patient care!

If your referral rate is below 40%, this may be a sign that your current patients are unhappy. You are likely also spending a lot of money on marketing to maintain growth with new patients. Encourage your team to re-focus on the fundamentals of patient care and relationship building before hiring a new associate.

Is Your Practice Running Smoothly?

Beyond growth, take a look at whether your practice has the resources and capacity to add another associate.

      • Do you have enough space, equipment, and operatories for your new associate to practice?

      • Are your onboarding, scheduling, and administrative systems running efficiently?

Adding one or more associates will complicate your practice administration. It’s very important to welcome your new associate to an organized office with skilled support, to ensure they are set for success.

Hiring an associate during a season of transition

If you or a partner is preparing for retirement or another life transition, you are likely in need of an associate who can take over the practice (or the partner’s share).

In this case, your approach should be a little different than if you are hiring a dentist for growth.

For example, when hiring for growth you’ll want to find an associate who is on the same page as you in terms of patient care and practice culture. Personal rapport is also crucial since your professional partnership will hopefully last many years –possibly decades! When hiring to prepare for retirement, shared values are still important since you want to leave your patients in good hands, however, personal rapport is less essential. Instead, prioritize finding a candidate who connects well with your team and current patient base.

Recruiting an Associate

Knowing where to search can often be the most difficult first step in recruiting your new associate. While sometimes it could be as simple as posting a  job listing on LinkedIn or more specialized job sites, be sure to also tap into your extended network. Dr. Sarradet has found his vendors to be his best resource when it comes to recruiting an associate.

“I go to my vendors because they’re the ones who know everyone in my market,” he said. “They know who’s out looking. They know what’s going on in all the offices over the region.”

Your recruiting approach may also vary whether you live in a metropolitan area or a rural community. Take a moment to note what brings people to your area. This unique draw is crucial when it comes to finding an associate who is a good fit and will stay long-term. If a standard job posting isn’t offering the results you need, consider a few of our creative suggestions: 

      • Connect with local college or dental school students who may be pursuing a career in dentistry. Consider speaking to classes or visiting career fairs.
      • Post about your search on social media and in specialty groups for dentists in your area.
      • Consider employing a recruiter with experience in dentistry.
      • Run ads on LinkedIn, professional association publications, or specialized job boards.
      • Connect with local divisions of the ADA or AGD to find recent graduates or network with your nearest study club.

Choosing the Right Associate

Since you will be working with your new associate for many years, it is especially crucial to choose someone who shares common values and approaches to patient care. And if you are preparing for a transition, you’ll want to ensure your patients are left in good hands.

Get your entire team on board before you start recruiting. Dr. Sarradet recommends meeting with your staff to discuss your plans to hire a new associate before beginning the interview phase. Explain the process, your reasons for bringing on a new associate, and what type of practitioner you are looking for. Although you make the ultimate decision, input from your trusted team is valuable since they may notice positive qualities or important red flags that you might miss.

Dr. Sarradet explained that his approach to choosing an associate evolved over the years as he gained experience. Initially, he sought an experienced associate, “I recognized that experience was probably not the most important thing. What became the most important thing was really personality, cultural fit, and their ability to connect with people on a human level. (Whether it be me, staff, or patients.)”

“Their ability to connect made more of a difference to me in my interview process than whether or not they had a ton of experience.”

Instead, Dr. Sarradet emphasized the importance of being on the same page when it comes to patient care. Rapport and simpatico are especially crucial when you plan to work side-by-side with this associate for many years.

“Go back to the old adage of hire slow and fire fast,” Dr. Sarradet added. “In other words, make sure you’re picking the right person. Do your homework, spend some time with that individual, make sure you connect. “

The process begins with an informal conversation. Use these questions as a guide to determine your prospect’s ability to connect and engage with you. Be sure to adapt the conversation based on their level of experience.

      • What are they looking for in a team or work environment?
      • Why are they seeking a change from their current practice?
      • What are their professional goals?
      • What’s their education and experience level?
      • What do they most enjoy about dentistry?

During the interview, show your prospect around the practice and discuss your core mission, values, and approach to patient care. Give the prospect a chance to get a feel for the culture and spend time with your team.

Depending on the doctor’s prior experience, you may also want to vet their clinical skills. We recommend inviting them to come in for a day to interact with your staff and shadow your visits with patients. Any prospects who make it to this point should feel encouraged to ask questions and engage with the office so you can get a better understanding of their personality, experience, and qualifications. Be sure to debrief with your team the next day to discuss any potential red flags.

onboarding and mentoring your associate

Once you’ve found the person to hire, your primary goal is to assist your new associate in assimilating smoothly into the practice. The approach for developing clinical skill and confidence with patients will vary by the individual experience level of the dentist, however, Dr. Sarradet emphasized the importance of not micromanaging a new associate’s clinical practice. 

“I’ve never met a doctor who has gone through undergrad and dental school who wanted another doctor to tell them how to be a doctor.”

He makes it clear from the initial interview that he won’t “step on the associate’s clinical toes,” but is available to talk if the associate wants to ask for advice or consult a challenging case.

Patient surveys will quickly evaluate your new dentist’s skill. We’ve found that though a  new associate excels at providing dental care, it’s most important to guide them in learning about the business side of dentistry and subtle preferences unique to your practice. Dr. Sarradet focuses his mentoring on clinical leadership and administrative processes, as  both are rarely covered in dental school.

“Most doctors come out of school and they just assume that if they just, ‘do dentistry,’ they’re going to be fine. I’ve met a lot of doctors from all over the country. None of them have ever told me that they were taught how to be a clinical leader. How to train your team members to be the best that they can be. How to build and work towards efficiency and efficacy.”

As a leader, a dentist may need to train their clinical or administrative staff in some of the nuances relating to his or her own standard of care and approach. While you may not need to dedicate as much time in mentoring a more experienced dentist in this area, it will behoove you and your team to take the time to ensure your new associate is prepared for their business responsibilities. Here are a few final tips we recommend trying as you welcome your new associate to your practice.

1.  Early on, pair your new associate with your most competent and confident dental assistant. This ensures they will be equipped to learn your team’s rules and standards. Pairing them with a trusted face also gives confidence to patients who are meeting your new associate for the first time, making it easier to build rapport and feel like part of the team.

2.  Meet your associate where they are. When onboarding and mentoring an experienced doctor, you likely won’t need to dedicate the same amount of time in practice leadership and business as you would a new graduate. Based on your new associate’s goals and experience, develop a mentorship plan that meets their needs and encourages longevity in your partnership. 

3.  Remember, learning goes both ways. Recent graduates can offer a wealth of ideas and insight on the latest technology and resources to streamline your current processes. Be open to learning from your new associate and provide opportunities for them to share their knowledge, experience, and contribute positive changes to the practice. 

A new associate can be a wonderful benefit to your team when properly vetted and mentored. Take the time to invest in preparing your associate to be successful and together you’ll reap the benefits of a thriving practice.


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By choosing the right partner, selling your dental practice can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your professional career. At Apex Dental Partners, we work closely with you every step of the way to ensure you feel comfortable and confident you're making the best decision for your future.