Finding the Perfect Job

Set Expectations:

Understand how your skills and interests may improve your options for finding an ideal role.

How easy will it be for you to find the practice where you best fit? There are several things you need to consider as you search for your dental dream home.

To-do: Download the desirability worksheet (XLS) to determine how your desires might affect your search.

Understanding Your Score

Remember that this is not a comprehensive assessment of your situation. There are many things that come into play when making a purchase and this is meant to be a simple tool to be used to provide a high-level overview.

Evaluation Results

Your score is 33-26

Your score indicates a willingness to be flexible in your search which opens up a whole world of options! You may want to begin thinking about what you will ask about the many opportunities that will be coming your way for evaluation. Start thinking about what really excites you as you look for your new opportunity – check out our options ebook Be sure to check out the Associate Contracting Toolkit so you are ready to negotiate when your ideal practice is found.

Your score is 25-19

You have many of the qualities owner dentists are looking for in an associate. You have developed a pretty good idea of what you are looking for in your next opportunity. Make sure you have a good understanding of the associate contract, so you are ready once you find a great practice.

Your score is 18-0

You have a very clear idea of what your requirements are for your next position – which is great! You probably have very specific wants and needs, and the perfect opportunity might be just down the block! Due to having such specific criteria, just understand that it can take some time to find your perfect match. If you are okay with a potential lengthy search period, no problem – just make sure you keep your eye on your preferred area and respond quickly if something comes up. If you are willing to consider other options, you will need to evaluate your criteria and identify areas where you are willing to compromise.


Set Goals:

Ensure the practice you are joining fulfills your professional and personal goals.

Set Goals

What do you really want from your new associateship? An opportunity to learn more skills? A path to practice ownership? Financial gain? Take some time to understand what you want from this transition - the more you understand about your primary motivations, the better you will be able to see a great opportunity when it comes.

Financial Goals

Be sure you understand your true financial needs by taking steps now to set yourself up for a healthy future. Identify your key financial goals and build a plan that will allow you to achieve them - bring in professionals to assist you if necessary.

Putting your finances in order

Pay attention to the details now and you will be in great shape to reach your financial goals.

Visit a Financial Advisor

Start by finding a good financial advisor. Ask your friends for recommendations. Make sure you conduct your due diligence by interviewing at least three individuals and researching their credentials. You need to have someone you can trust to help you arrange your finances to ensure that you are meeting your financial milestones.

A certified financial planner, sometimes called a “fiduciary,” is licensed and regulated, and must take ongoing education to maintain their credentials. A “fee-only” financial planner typically bills only for their time, rather than earning a commission on any investments you may buy or sell – meaning that their advice is based on your best interests rather than the advisor’s bottom line. A CFP (Certified Financial Planner) can provide personal finance education, help you set goals, identify potential investment strategies, and help you navigate changing financial needs. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors can provide more resources and connect you with CFPs in your area.

A financial advisor can help you think through questions such as:

  • What is my current debt load, and what is the best path to repayment?
  • How can I save for additional goals, such as buying a home?
  • If I want to buy a practice, how much should I be saving?
  • How much do I need to live my preferred lifestyle at my goal retirement age?
  • What does my preferred lifestyle look like?
  • Is my current income adequate to achieve my goals?
  • How do I build a household budget?
  • How many years and how much do I need to invest in order to achieve my goals?
  • How should I save for retirement? How will that change over my career?
  • While you are visiting the financial advisor, be sure to establish vital estate planning documents, such as wills and power of attorney. The ADA has more information about why estate planning is so important for dentists and avoiding common mistakes.

The ADA offers members several retirement planning resources and life insurance, including complimentary consultations with retirement specialists and retirement calculators. Available plans offer lower costs than many other retirement plans and access to a variety of investment funds.

Repay Your Student Loans

Your dental school debt load can be daunting – but it doesn’t have to put your life on hold. Your financial advisor can help you build a plan to pay down your loans while also saving for the future. The ADA has partnered with Laurel Road to offer student loan refinancing and consolidation options with discounted rates. ADA members can get an extra 0.25 percent reduction in their interest rate, with no application, origination or prepayment fees. Find out how this program can help you control your finances.

Build a Budget

How are you spending your money? Does your income exceed your expenses? Where might you be able to cut spending – or reallocate savings? Are there categories where the expenses seem too high?

Several online tools can help you see where your money is going and where you might be able to make changes. With this information in hand, you can adjust your habits or expenditures in a way that will help you meet your goals. You will also learn how much money is required to live your current lifestyle, which can help you better identify your compensation needs.

Make sure to consider the true costs of healthcare for you and your family. If you are currently paying a lot of out-of-pocket expenses, a job with a slightly lower salary but better health insurance may be worth considering.

Know Your Practice Financing Options

If practice ownership is on your horizon – whether this year or in a decade – start evaluating your options to finance a practice. The ADA has selected Panacea as its exclusively endorsed lender for practice financing. This gives ADA members access to preferred rates at every career stage.

It can take time to get your finances in order. Start early and work with professionals who have dedicated their careers to demystifying complex rules and regulations.

Professional and Personal Goals

Why are you taking a new step in your dental career? You may be interested in professional development. Consider what your professional career might look like in the coming years. Think outside the box, set some goals and then take strides to meet them.

What makes you tick: understanding your goals

It is a good moment to consider your work/life balance and evaluate which interests you might want to devote more (or less) time to.

Continuing Education

A good dentist never stops learning. Plus, many dentists find that continual learning keeps their passion for dentistry alive. Whether you want to learn about new techniques or materials, or share your knowledge, there are plenty of opportunities. The ADA offers subscriptions to online CE to make it easy for you to access many subjects and learn at your own pace!

Continued learning does not just mean structured courses. Another way to acquire or learn more about desired skills is to work directly with specialists in your area. Often, they will be very welcoming and eager to share their knowledge and techniques with you on a one-on-one basis.

Think about which topics sound most interesting. Consider attending local, state, national or even international conferences that cover those topics. Over time, build a portfolio of your most interesting or unique cases. These could be used down the road for teaching.

Find a Mentor

A good mentor can guide you as you move through the stages of your dental career. Mentorship can take many forms, so evaluate what sounds most appealing — and realistic — to you. A mentor will require investing some time, but that investment is usually well worth it.

Would you prefer a mentor who practices in your office or someone out in the community? Having someone physically on site who can be readily available for quick consults and troubleshooting creates a more organic relationship — but there is potential for conflict if the mentor is more intrusive than you would prefer. If your mentor practices elsewhere, they are less available, but the dedicated time you spend together may be more focused rather than a rushed few minutes between patients.

If you choose an off-site mentor, you can find one through a study club or local dental school — or even through your alma mater. Many local ADA chapters have mentorship opportunities so be sure to check with your state association.

Share Your Skills to Solve Access to Care Issues

Many dentists devote some time to solving access to care issues. If that sounds interesting, begin by deciding where you would like to take on the battle: your office, another clinic, the legislature or through professional leadership. Review your options.

Access to care starts close to home — even right in your office. Through programs like Dental Lifeline Network, Wounded Warriors and others, you can provide care to underserved populations in your office, with your own equipment and supplies. You can control when you see patients and you do not need to travel anywhere. However, these programs will take up chair time, and often have a high no-show rate, with potentially high expenses.

Many FQHC's (Federally Qualified Health Centers) and CHC's (Community Health Clinics) seek volunteers who can provide care within their offices. The beauty of this model is that after you have been approved, you can typically let the clinic know what days you are available and what procedures you prefer to do — they will schedule the patients and you just show up and do dentistry! The clinic staff handles any follow-up care so you really do only what you want, on your own terms. In most cases, because you are covered under sovereign immunity, you do not need to carry any malpractice insurance; the only cost is truly time out of your day. Search your local area for “free dental clinics” or talk to your local association to learn what might be nearby.

The American Dental Association Foundation organizes dental Mission of Mercy clinics throughout the United States, with unlimited opportunities for dentists to practice dentistry or work with their state association to organize these events.

Lastly, some dentists elect to go to underserved countries and provide care in either a clinic setting or in rural locations - picture tooth extractions done in folding chairs on the side of a mountain! There are many opportunities through organizations such as Doctors Without Borders or Haiti Outreach Ministries that organize these types of trips. You could also check with dental schools who offer these opportunities — they often need experienced dentists to oversee students as they provide care. Think about this as an opportunity to expand your horizons.

Leadership and Advocacy

Get involved with your local or state association. You can start small. Just go to a local meeting and think about running for office or becoming a delegate. Many state associations offer leadership training that will give you the skills you need — you just need the time. And if you are particularly passionate about an issue, you could join the ADA’s advocacy efforts and work with officials at the local, state, or federal level.

You might also join a peer review committee or other group, such as the ADA Clinical Evaluators (ACE) Panel, which evaluates new dental products and techniques.

Life Outside Dentistry

Life is about more than just your day job! As you approach a new career role, evaluate all the other things that spark your passion. Now is the time to explore new interests or expand your commitment to activities beyond dentistry.

You can start with your community. Perhaps you have been involved in a local organization and have thought about stepping into a more active role or formal leadership. Whether it is a local non-profit, church, children’s sports or other activities, there are plenty of opportunities to get more involved.

Maybe you have always wanted to try cooking, learning a language, running a marathon, or writing a book. While many of these can be self-directed, you can also look for local entities — a community college, library, or park district, for example — that offer classes or meet-ups for like-minded people. Websites like can also connect you with people who share your interests.

Balancing Work and Life

Once you have decided what you would like to do, strive to structure your schedule in a way that makes it possible. Working “non-traditional” dentistry hours might give you time to volunteer in your child’s school — or you might be better served by more traditional hours. Consider how being on call factors into your other obligations.

Most importantly, set appropriate expectations with practice owners. As you interview, talk about your professional development goals. Tell the owner if you prioritize CE or if you are actively involved in volunteerism — and make sure that you can continue to do so. For example, if you participate in Dental Lifeline Network, confirm that the owner will support you serving patients right in the office. As necessary, consider writing these types of expectations into your employment agreement, particularly around guaranteeing time off (or funding) to pursue CE and other professional interests.


Retirement may seem far away, but it is never too early to think about it. Discuss your ideal timeline with your family and your financial professionals. Do you want to retire early and travel? Will you want to move to another state for retirement? Then you might consider looking at opportunities in that area now — just in case the ideal practice is currently hiring. No matter what you want to do, make sure you are saving and investing wisely.

Valuable Resources

Free to ADA members

Envisioning Your Ideal Practice

When it comes to finding your perfect practice, there are plenty of factors to consider.

There are no correct answers, but your preferences will guide your next steps and help you find the right practice for your unique desires. By finding a practice that shares your vision and goals, you will choose a path that leads to a successful, mutually satisfying relationship long after the initial meeting. Plus, patients benefit when everyone in the practice shares a similar approach.

Start by completing your Ideal Practice worksheet. Think about your desired scenario. Talk to colleagues or friends and ask what they would do differently if they had the chance. A word of caution though, what worked or did not work, for your peers, may not be what is best for your unique situation. Be sure to take the time to articulate what you want.

To-Do: Download the Transition Goals worksheet (pdf) and use it to help identify your ideal situation.

Top Considerations when evaluating practices

Determining your ideal practice type and form of ownership will be instrumental in uncovering practices that could be good matches for you to consider. Now it’s time to slow down and take the steps to determine if an available practice is the right one for you. It’s worth a little extra effort now to make sure you’re choosing the right practice for your next step, starting with asking these questions of yourself:

Evaluating Dental Practice Opportunities: Key Considerations for Success

As a dentist, whether you are a new graduate or an experienced practitioner looking to change practices, evaluating potential opportunities is crucial. The decision you make can significantly impact your career trajectory and professional satisfaction. Following are key considerations that will help you assess whether a specific dental practice is the right fit for you.

Shared Philosophy of Care

One of the most critical factors in determining the success of your integration into a new practice is the alignment of treatment philosophies between you and the practice owner. This shared philosophy encompasses mission, vision, and values. When you and the practice owner are on the same page regarding patient care, the transition for patients will be smoother. They won't experience a jarring difference in treatment style, which helps in retaining them and encouraging referrals.

Assessing the Patient Experience

To truly understand a practice, start by experiencing it from a patient's perspective. Visit the practice when patients are being seen. Observe the front desk interactions and the general atmosphere in the waiting area. Are patients greeted warmly? Do they seem satisfied and comfortable? This initial impression often sets the tone for the entire patient experience. If patients are unhappy at the front desk, they may carry that dissatisfaction into the treatment room.

Evaluating the Schedule

The practice's schedule can reveal a lot about its operations. Examine the number of patients being seen and the types of procedures performed. Consider whether the pace of the practice suits your working style. Some dentists thrive in high-volume settings, moving quickly from one patient to the next. Others prefer a slower pace, spending more time with each patient. Ensure that the practice's schedule aligns with your preferred working rhythm.

Understanding Patient Flow

Ask about the new patient experience. How do new patients enter the practice, and what is their journey like? Some practices route new patients through hygiene first, while others have them consult with the dentist before any treatment. Each approach has its merits, but it's important to know whether you can adapt to the existing system and feel confident that you can provide excellent care within that framework.

Reviewing Patient Charts

One of the most informative steps in evaluating a practice is reviewing patient charts with the owner dentist. Look at treatment plans, especially complex cases, and assess the quality of care provided. This review not only helps you understand the practice's clinical standards but also offers insight into the treatment planning process. Ensure that the treatment philosophy and standards of care align with your own.

Interaction with the Senior Doctor

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of evaluating a new opportunity is your interaction with the senior doctor. During the chart review or other discussions, pay attention to how the senior doctor treats you. Are your opinions respected? Is there an open, professional dialogue? A healthy professional relationship, characterized by mutual respect and open communication, is essential, especially if you are joining as an associate or in a situation where the owner will remain involved for some time.


Evaluating a dental practice opportunity requires a thorough understanding of various aspects of the practice, from patient experience to clinical standards and interpersonal dynamics. By focusing on these key areas, you can make an informed decision that will set you up for long-term success and professional fulfillment. Remember, the right fit will not only help you retain patients but also create an environment where you can thrive and grow as a dental professional.

Valuable Resources

Free to ADA members

Understanding Associate Contracts

Begin with a confidentiality agreement before anyone can review valuations, financials or patient information. The confidentiality agreement is a legal, non-disclosure document that disallows the dentist viewing confidential or proprietary information from sharing any of the details they see.

To-Do: Download the Associate Contracting Toolkit (pdf) and use it as you start creating contracts for your new job.

Valuable Resources

Free to ADA members