The new dentist’s job and the learning curve

By Bruce Bryen, CPA, CVA

After the search is over and the new job has begun, it is time to make sure that learning is occurring with a timeline that is acceptable to both the dentist who was hired and to the owner who is hopefully mentoring the new associate.

The skill sets that were learned in dental school will, of course, be very important to the new associate and are necessary for the task at hand. The recent graduate should not be surprised, however, if some of these acquired understandings may be temporarily put to the side as the owner of the dental practice has “his or her” way of doing things. The most important thing of all is to make sure that there is something accomplished every day that keeps the process moving forward and does not become stagnant. Asking a lot of questions is important for the newly hired. Watching the expertise that the dentists, hygienists and dental assistants have as they work and seeing how their personalities are used to enhance the involvement with the patient is something that is probably not taught in school. These points of patient contact create an on-the-job learning technique that will create long term relationships with the dental office and the dentist. Having sophisticated clinical skills but not knowing how to connect the patient to that wisdom will doom the associate to always being an associate and not having the opportunity for ownership if he or she desires to become an owner.

The production associated with people skills is also an add-on for the associate as patients will request seeing him or her for follow-up appointments in the future, thus enhancing his or her production and collection opportunities. This then will increase the compensation that the associate will earn. It also builds a following and allows the associate to have a schedule that helps the practice grow and certainly adds value to the associate’s reputation.

What aims and goals are the choices for the newly hired dental school graduate?

Having the experience and compensation that the associateship gives the new hire becomes what the dental school graduate has been waiting for since signing up for the education. Being able to start paying off some bills and student debt and learning while being paid is a positive result of the years of schooling. If the associate is interested in becoming self-employed or joining the current practice as a partner, he or she must master many of the chairside styles taught by the hygienists, dental assistants, and the dentist who all become mentors to this new hire.

Clinical skills are assimilated by watching, doing and listening and the “bedside” manner is the same. Sometimes the dental assistant has a terrific rapport with the patient and the associate should not be afraid to learn from that person. The teamwork and support given by the employees at the office is what goes into making the dental practice successful or not. If the associate wants to be an owner, learning about all the aspects of the office will assist in achieving that goal. The timeline is really based on the new hire’s learning curve. If things are not progressing quickly enough, it is time to speak to the owner/dentist to get things moving faster.

All the areas of the office include the administrative side as well since having an ownership position entails taking care of everything at the dental office. Unfortunately, many dental schools do not offer courses in financial awareness.

Meetings with the office manager, owner, dental practice accountant, etc.

For those with an ownership interest in mind, meetings with the above personnel is a necessary step to becoming the owner or partner that the associate wants to be. This may mean working after hours, during lunch time, and possibly even on Saturdays and Sundays until a feeling of understanding is reached.

Learning must be attained and the time to speak about a partnership is approaching, if that is what is desired and the associate thinks the time is right. The exit strategy for the owner of the practice is made easier when the associate is ready to join the practice. There is no commission to pay to a dental practice broker for the sale to the associate since he or she is ready to join. There is no time lag on the ability to find a buyer while working hard to make the practice look as good as it can be until the practice broker finds someone who wants to acquire a dental practice and who may be financially able. If this is the right practice for the associate and he or she likes the current owner, something can be resolved if the parties sit down to discuss things.

The owner dentist knows what the associate dentist is capable of producing and how he or she relates to the patients as well as to the staff. If it is the right fit, everyone wins. If the owner is hesitant on discussing ownership with the associate, it is probably time to look at another dental office for an ownership position or to look at a potential position of self-employment if the associate feels ready for that. If it is the case and the associate is ready to go ahead with any type of acquisition or even his or her own startup opportunity, it is time to retain a financial consultant (specifically a dental CPA) who can assist with this most important decision which may be the most valuable asset this young man or woman eventually owns.

Finding the dental CPA may be as easy as asking the owner who he or she has engaged to assist him or her with financial affairs. If that doesn’t work, the dental supply representative who sees many dentists in offices that are part of the geographic territory he or she covers, can offer the names and contact information of this important financial person. Assisting with financing, office layout, and supply orders are what this person does.

About the author

Bruce Bryen, CPA, CVA is a certified public accountant with more than 45 years of experience and is a part of Baratz & Associates CPAs. He specializes in deferred compensation, such as retirement planning design; income and estate tax planning; determination of the proper organizational business structure; asset protection and structuring loan packages for presentation to financial institutions. He is experienced in providing litigation support services to dentists with Valuation and Expert Witness testimony in matrimonial and partnership dispute cases. He is also a financial writer for several dental journals. You may contact him at 609-502-0691 or at

Note: “A learning curve” by Graham Ó Síodhacháin is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

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Bruce Bryen

Bruce Bryen

Bruce Bryen, CPA/CVA Dental Practice Valuation Analyst, Baratz & Associates, PA