Do You Really Want To Be A Dental Practice Owner?

Back when I was at University studying dentistry it was simply EXPECTED that following graduation, dentists would be employed as associate dentists in somebody else’s practice for a handful of years before taking the plunge and purchasing and OWNING their own dental practice.

Ownership of a dental practice came in two forms.

You either bought an existing practice from another dentist, or you set up and opened a new location as a dental practice.

So as a student, I was quite shocked to find out that one of our part-time instructors was a “career associate dentist” and had worked full-time as an associate for a long time in the dental practice owned by the father of one of my fellow students.

I’m not sure why this instructor had chosen this career path.

One of my fellow university student colleagues has worked his entire dental career as an associate dentist, never ever owning a dental practice. For nearly his entire career, he has been a long term associate dentist for two long [individual] terms at two very well established dental practices.

This colleague freely admits that the pressures of being a business owner were never for him. It just wasn’t in his nature to want to wrestle with the hassles of staff management, business forecasting, and financial risk taking.

And fair enough.

As an associate dentist he was more than happy to exchange sixty percent of his daily billings for the peace of mind that somebody else would handle all the day-to-day pressures of running the dental practice.

And that’s how he chose to run his career and his life.

One of my dentist coaching clients has a very high-producing associate dentist working in her practice who has been there as an associate for eight or nine years now.

As an associate, he’s very happy to turn up, drill teeth, and go home, knowing that at the end of each day he’s free of the shackles of running a dental practice.

It’s a great working relationship for him, and also for my client. She knows that having a hard working longer-term associate is a gift to her.

This is because primarily, productive associates often get “itchy feet” and want to move on to practice ownership, feeling that as owners, some of that sixty precent of their billings that they previously were paying their employer will stay with them in their new role as business owners.

The sad thing is…

The sad thing is that university fails to prepare graduates for practice ownership.

In fact, most university courses fail to prepare dental graduates for the day to day grind of working in dental practices.

One of my clients recently bemoaned to me that her undergraduate experience seemed to tailor students towards a lifetime career working as dental officers in a state government run public health system.

For this dentist there was no undergraduate guidance in any of the following:

  • Good human resources management and people management
  • Mastering time management and efficiency
  • How to create great systems and protocols
  • Becoming a great leader
  • Creating a clear and concise service vision for your business
  • Knowing the purpose of the service vision
  • Creating a clear mission statement and what to do with it
  • How to write a business plan
  • How to write a business plan for a bank
  • Managing and creating exceptional dental office phone protocols and systems
  • How to create watertight World Class Customer Service Systems


To me…

To me, that seems to be a fairly unacceptable result for an undergraduate to receive after having invested four, or five or seven years of their time in a training process for a chosen career.

Along with the years invested, there’s also a significant financial investment involved in acquiring a dental degree.

For the time, and for the money invested, you’d think that dental undergraduates would be receiving something more.

Recently, I presented a series of information evenings to final year students at an Australian University.

And almost to a man [or to a woman], every one of them wanted to become a dental practice owner, and not become a career employee.

Is anybody listening?

Are the universities listening to their “customers”?

The product delivered does not seem to be an adequate solution.


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