8 Things to Ask a Practice Owner During an Interview

An illustration of three people at a meeting

You have probably heard that you should ask questions during an interview.

Here are a few things to ask, whether during a phone/video interview or in person.

1. Why are you bringing on a new dentist? Why now?

The owner’s motivation will direct your next few questions.

If the practice is bursting-at-the-seams busy, you’ll want to find out whether there’s enough space for you. Will additional staff be hired? How many operatories will you work out of? Will the owner be comfortable handing off some long-term patients to you?

If the owner wants to slow down and cut back their own hours, discuss the plan for doing so. Which patients/procedures will they “keep”? Will you both be in the office at the same time or work opposite hours?

If the owner is planning to sell — whether now or in the next few years — talk about their timeline in more depth to ensure you can live with it. (And get it in writing.)

Finally, if the owner is vague about their reasons, make sure they truly need an associate and have enough patients to keep you busy. (See #7 below.)

2. What does the schedule look like?

Ask to see schedules from a few typical weeks. Look at the procedure mix and how long is allocated for each treatment. Do you have the skills needed to handle a typical week — and keep up the expected pace? If you lack some skills, are they things you want to learn? The owner might be willing to mentor you or pay for your CE. It never hurts to ask!

3. How will I get paid?

Understand how you will be paid! There can be a huge difference between getting paid based on production versus collections — especially if the practice works with a lot of third-party payers or has weak collections policies.

Be wary if a practice with a collections rate of less than 98% wants to pay you on collections. In that case, you may be better off taking a slightly lower cut of production rather than waiting for money that may never materialize. And don’t overlook the value of any benefits. You might accept a slightly lower salary if the practice offers healthcare, retirement matching, a generous CE allowance, or other benefits.

More Than Meets the Eye: How Associate Pay Can Vary

4. Which insurances/payers do you accept?

A practice’s payer mix can offer insight into how the office runs. If they accept several plans, look at the fee schedules for each payer. Find out who will treat the fee-for-service patients and who will treat the PPO patients. If you will be assigned most of the PPO patients and will be paid on collections, ask about the collection policies to ensure you get paid for your work.

5. What’s your long-term plan?

As an incoming associate, you are smart to think about your long-term potential with a specific practice. Ask the owner if they are looking to expand the office or open another location. Decide how the plans fit into your own long-term vision.

If the practice owner is winding down towards retirement, will you have an option to buy out the owner when it’s time? If any decisions or promises are made, put them in writing now. Too often, we see associates get strung along with a promise of ownership that never materializes.

6. Are you willing to mentor? Will you pay for CE, dues, etc?

Ask yourself where you want your career to go. Do you want to learn new skills or a specialty? If you want to own someday, do you need to learn the business side of dentistry? Do you need to improve your case presentation or staff management skills?

With that in mind, ask the owner if they’re willing to help you gain those skills, whether through hands-on mentorship, connecting you with the appropriate colleagues, or providing a CE allowance. You might also consider something like the mentorship-to-ownership pathway.

7. Is the practice ready to support a new dentist?

All too often, we see practices bring in an associate because “it’s time” or they want someone who can pick up a few hours or cover them while they’re on vacation. Unfortunately, that often leaves the incoming dentist twiddling their thumbs — sometimes unable to service their student loan debt.

Ask about the plan for integrating you into the practice. Will you have adequate staff, patients, and physical space? Will you work out of dedicated operatories or float between them?

Discuss how you will build your patient pool. How will the owner allocate their long-term patients? Will they instruct staff to direct new patients to you? Again, how will you split PPO versus fee-for-service patients?

What Went Wrong: The Practice Wasn’t Ready for an Associate

8. Can I shadow you? Can we review a few cases together?

The best way to see if you fit into a practice is to shadow the owner for at least half a day. Watch how they work and how they interact with staff and patients. See how the office flows and feels. Do you like the energy — or do you feel overstimulated or sleepy?

You should also ask to review a few cases together, particularly if you can’t arrange to shadow. Look at before and after radiographs and photos. Take the time to discuss the treatment plan and outcomes. While your methods may vary, make sure you can respect the owner’s work, communicate on a professional level, and share a similar standard of care.

What Went Wrong: The Quality of Care Wasn’t Up to My Standard.

Don’t be shy about asking questions during an interview. Remember that you and the practice owner ultimately want the same thing: a successful transition.

You don’t have to settle for a “good enough” associateship that stunts your career growth. Use the interview process to make sure that the practice will support your goals.

See more advice on listening during an interview and looking for red flags, or create your free ADA Practice Transitions profile to begin your search for that perfect associateship.   

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