Entering an Associateship: Tips and FAQs
Two out of three dental graduates choose to enter an existing practice rather
than start their own. Why?
It’s less expensive than starting a new practice.
It’s transition friendly.
It’s less stressful than running a practice.
Entering an associateship is not an easy decision. You need to have a
thorough understanding of the agreement that you and the owner dentist enter.
These tips and frequently-asked questions will help you get the most of the
In general, what can I expect from an associateship?
A 2004 Survey by the American Dental Association Survey Center gathered the
following information on common aspects of associateships.
Compensation: On average, full-time associates were earning a net income of
$112,270 per year, $117,130 per year for specialists (based on national
Method of compensation: Varied by contract. Some dentists received an
annual salary while others received a percentage of production or an hourly
Benefits: Varied by contract. Some common benefits included health
insurance, malpractice insurance, paid vacation, paid membership dues in
organized dentistry and reimbursement for continuing education.
Duration: Terms range from 1 year to 10 years or more. The average term for
an agreement was 1.7 years.
Legal detail: The vast majority of contracts contained conditions for
contract termination, payment methods, and a “non-compete”
Other important components include:
A formal contract: Every associateship should involve a formal contract
between the prospective associate and the practitioner. The contract should
describe, in detail, legal elements such as the associate’s obligations,
remuneration and expenses, employer’s property, etc. As the next section shows,
it is vital to understand every aspect of this agreement.
An employment attorney: Graduates considering an associateship should
anticipate and hire an employment attorney to review the conditions of the
How should I evaluate an associateship contract?
Careful evaluation of the contract is critical. You do not want to rush into
the agreement and later discover that you dislike or were unaware of the
implications of its formal provisions. Common components you will encounter
include employee status; term and time of contract; remuneration and expenses;
obligations of associate; obligations of employer; termination of agreements;
non-competition and non-solicitation; potential buy-out; probationary period;
right of first refusal; and marketing materials. Be sure you understand each of
these elements. If necessary, consult a legal dictionary. Also, make sure you
have a legal advisor who can guide you through the contract and help you make a
decision that it is in your best interest.
What advice would other graduates who have undergone this procedure
Consult others with experience.
Contact dentists in your area to see associateship contracts they have
signed. Use successful contracts as a model for your own.
Consult a legal advisor who is familiar with evaluating dental
Learn to talk figures with people. Don’t be afraid to ask blunt questions
about your salary requirements and preferred methods of payment.
How can I search for an associateship?
Are there any other printed resources on associateships you would
Use the ADA Catalog
to order Associateships: A Guide for Owners and Prospective