Are You Ready to Be a Partner?

There comes a time at every practice when taking on an additional partner makes good business sense. Partners, unlike associates, are part owners of a practice. Practice owners may choose to take on partners to reduce their own risk. Every new partner added equals a smaller share of debt and other liabilities for the practice owner.

The question you must consider is, “Am I ready to become a partner?”

Maybe you are willing to take on more risk in exchange for a larger payoff, and maybe there is an owner out there who is nearing retirement and wants an exit strategy. That can often be the intersection where perfect partnerships are formed. Below are some considerations to mull over to make sure the business operation is everything you want it to be before jumping into a partnership.

Is there a right or a wrong time in a dentist’s career to pursue a partnership?

There is no right or wrong time, as long as the partnership makes financial sense. Ask yourself these questions as you consider investing in the practice.

  • Does the business have its finances in order?

This is a question that must be answered. If the practice owner is serious about you becoming a partner, request business financials from the previous years. You’ll want a date range that will allow you to identify trends and determine if the business is on an overall upward or downward trend. Five to 10 years should provide this data. If a practice owner is hesitant to show you the books, it’s a red flag that should not be ignored.

  • Is the practice a good investment? Think about this question holistically, outside of the numbers and financial data you have already reviewed. Is the practice in a market that appears to be growing or shrinking? Is your current and potential customer base the clientele that you are seeking? Is this a practice and location that you feel comfortable growing and living in? Is this where you see yourself in 10, 15 or 20 years?
  • Does this make good professional sense? Now consider your professional path. Will this practice allow you to provide the level of care that you aspire toward and perform the procedures you enjoy? It’s important to be satisfied in your professional career. You do not want to get restless after only a couple years of agreeing to invest as a partner in a practice.

What professional benchmarks should a dentist have before pursuing a partnership?

There are no career benchmarks that will tell the individual dentist that he or she is prepared to be a partner. The opposite is true when it comes to practice-specific benchmarks. You should know these business benchmarks in advance of accepting an associate position with a practice and certainly before moving toward partnership. It is often the case that an owner and an associate have different understandings of when partnership will be available. Defining that time frame or establishing clear office benchmarks or associate production goals can help eliminate these issues.

What questions should a dentist ask themselves to help determine if they are prepared to pursue a partnership?

Are they ready for the increased responsibility? Are they committed to staying in that area indefinitely? Can they get along with the owner dentist? Will they have a voice in the direction of the practice?

What lightbulb moment should dentists be on the lookout for that will tell them it is the right time to become a partner?

When a dentist starts to view the practice as a long-term project to work on and improve, rather than as place to work.

Associateships make sense for some and partnerships for others. Consult a trusted colleague or mentor to help you weigh the pros and cons, or speak with a professional recruiter who is familiar with the industry. Be sure that you put in the proper due diligence as you make this important career decision.


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