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Working for a Group Practice

Finding the right practice opportunity right out of school can be a challenge. "To be honest I was getting discouraged," remembers Dr. Rebecca Warnken, who graduated from Marquette University School of Dentistry in 2013. "I interviewed for one associateship with a dentist in private practice, and we clashed over our philosophies of treatment planning. He was inflexible, a real 'My way or the highway,' approach. I remember thinking, 'I don't want to be told exactly what to do, no matter where I work!'"

Fortunately then-student Warnken had a mentor, a seasoned dentist with connections not only in Milwaukee, where Warnken was finishing her education, but also in Florida, where she hoped to relocate after graduation and licensure. Through these connections, she found an opportunity with a group practice setting in Florida, where today she leads a single-doctor practice.

What is a Group Practice?

Group Practice is an umbrella term that describes a number of scenarios, from a partnership of two or more dentists, to large multi-state organizations. The practice might have multiple dentists working at a single location, or several locations, each with a dentist serving as leader of the team. In some cases the dentists work as employees, while in others there is an opportunity to buy into the practice and take a partial ownership position.

Building on Success

"I had a career as a consultant before I went back to school to study dentistry," notes Dr. Hunter Piermont, a 2012 graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. "In consulting there is a great deal of emphasis on leadership development and identifying the processes that work so that everyone can build on each other's success. Those were two of the qualities I was looking for in a practice setting."

As Dr. Piermont launched his job search, he found that not all group opportunities were alike. "For me it was important that the decisions be dentist-driven," he elaborates, "not just in patient care, where I have the ultimate responsibility, but in all the business processes. There is no one who hasn't been through what I'm going through, so they share my perspective."

Finding the Balance

For Dr. Piermont, a group practice setting offers a balance of autonomy and support. "What has impressed me is that there is always assistance available, but I am the one who initiates that request for assistance. It isn't like there is someone second-guessing my decisions."

That balance of autonomy and support was also a deciding factor for Dr. Steven J. Smith, who leads a group practice location in Jonesboro, Georgia. "In dental school there was always someone available to offer assistance, and I definitely wanted a practice environment where I could have that support without feeling like someone was hovering over my shoulder."

It's about Dentistry

For Dr. Smith, a first-generation dentist, support goes beyond clinical matters. "I'm interested in growing as a dentist, not in growing as a human resources expert or a marketer or any of those other roles that a small business owner has to take on." Dr. Smith cites third-party payer plans as a key example. "Our location accepts insurance plans, there are payment plans, we have a number of ways to make it easy for our patients to pay for their care. I'm an expert in dentistry, not an expert in reimbursement. I appreciate that I can go home after a day of providing patient care and not have to worry about processing paperwork from today or getting my appointment book filled for tomorrow."

Dentistry in a group practice setting can be appealing as a step in a new dentist's career path as these three dentists have outlined. Dr. Todd Marshall is a board member of Park Dental, a dentist-owned and governed group practice operating 26 locations in Minnesota. "We are fortunate to be a destination-of-choice for both new and seasoned dentists," observes Dr. Marshall, "and that means we are highly selective about the dentists who join our team."

Being Selective

Of course it's not only that the group practice who is selective about dentists; dentists must also be selective about the practice. "I spent a lot of time talking to other dentists working for this specific organization," notes Dr. Warnken, "it was critical for me to know that I would be able to do the right thing for the right reasons. Getting that feedback from other dentists helped me validate my decision. Even so I am pleasantly surprised at how closely this experience lines up with the expectations I had going in!"

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