Dental Partnerships: Navigate the Dynamics of This Work Relationship

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Dental partnerships are often referred to as “work marriages,” as they consist of a unique, collaborative dynamic that demands time and effort to be successful. They require a strong, cohesive relationship to make decisions as the act of managing a practice with two or more autonomous individuals can be complex.

“Partnerships can be infinitely more complicated than one practice owner because there are two people, two sets of opinions, two preferred ways of doing things,” Senior Financial Analyst Bridget Schwebke said. “At the same time, two can be stronger than one. The opportunity there can be endless if it’s well orchestrated and well executed.”

And of course, things become even more complex when there are more than two partners.

As a partner, you want to grow your practice and see your partnership thrive rather than crash and burn. How do you make that vision a reality? While there are several pieces to think about, here are some considerations to assess before jumping in.

Determining if a Partnership is Right for You

While a dental partnership isn’t for everyone, it can be the right path for many. From a buyer’s perspective, a partnership allows a new doctor to work alongside someone and buy a portion of a practice rather than buying it in its entirety. This can be helpful especially if the doctor recently graduated from dental school and desires mentorship before fully taking the reins.

On the seller side, the current practice owner may be looking for someone to equally share the patient load with, or they might be looking to add more work/life balance to their schedule. Maybe the doctor wants to scale back and have more time at home, or perhaps the doctor is nearing retirement and wants to transition out slowly before fully handing over their life’s work.

“If it’s not a long-term arrangement, we often see partnerships exist as a segue to the doctors’ ultimate end goals,” Bridget said. “In a situation where the buyer wants to eventually be a full owner but needs some mentorship, and the seller wants a transition plan into retirement, a partnership can serve as a solution to reach both doctors’ goals.”

While the situation and circumstances may tell you that a partnership makes sense, it’s also important to remember that a partnership is centered around a common theme: collaboration. Running a practice is more than just the clinical side to dentistry; prospective partners must be ready to work through patient relationships, team relationships and general business responsibilities.

“In a partnership, you always have to consider another person when making decisions, and remember that you’re splitting everything with another person,” Bridget said. “It can sound daunting, but it’s also an opportunity to share the load from an operational, management, and production standpoint. Plus, there’s always someone to bounce ideas off of.”

If collaboration is something you can manage well and possibly even enjoy, that’s a sign that partnership could be right for you.

Finding the Perfect Partner

Just as marriages typically involve a dating phase, so should dental partnerships. This dating phase may consist of the current owner searching for a doctor outside of the practice to immediately become an equity partner. Another possibility is if an associate already works in the practice, and the current owner is deciding if they would be a good fit as a partner. Regardless of the situation, this dating phase is to ensure the two doctors will be able to work together long-term.

Because the doctors will spend a significant amount of time with each other, focusing on compatibility is key to finding a partner. In order to determine if the doctors can work together, there are numerous factors to consider, including who they are as people, how they interact with patients, clinical and managerial skills, adaptability, communication style and ability to have uncomfortable or difficult conversations.

Ensuring personalities match or complement each other can make a big difference in the long run. Especially if one doctor has strengths in an area where the other has weaknesses, or if the doctors can each bring a unique skill set to the table, this could be incredibly beneficial to growing the practice.

Every doctor will want something different in a partner, so be aware of the qualities and factors that are the most important to you.

Cultivating a Successful Partnership

In order to nurture the partnership to be the best it can be, one of the first steps is understanding the short- and long-term goals of both doctors.

Every individual is unique depending on their current life stage and career goals, so a partnership would look different in each case. That’s why communication on how you want the partnership to play out is key to starting everything on the right foot.

It’s also essential to lay out the expectations of each doctor from the beginning.

“Similar to marriages where you have to figure out who’s going to do the laundry or dishes or who’s going to handle the finances, it’s a learning process,” Bridget said. “Operating agreements can set the parameters by including required production and minimum days worked. However, at the end of the day, it comes down to the two people and if they communicate and carry out those expectations.”

Failed Partnerships

Of course, no one wants to see their partnership crash and burn, but it’s unfortunately a possibility. It’s time, effort and money gone down the drain if you and the other doctor have to part ways sooner than expected. Not only can it take years to find someone that you truly work well with, but it can also take a substantial amount of time to simply complete the transition and set the agreement in place.

Failed partnerships can occur for multiple reasons, including a lack of contribution from doctors, inability to work with others or lack of communication. It could also be as simple as a change of personal goals where partnership is no longer desired.

Therefore, ensuring that both you and your partner are ready should be one of the first steps. Rather than jumping into an agreement with an individual you may not be compatible with, investing time and being diligent in the selection process can help prevent a failed partnership.

Seeking Additional Advice & Resources

At NDP, our job is to set you up for success and give you the tools to tackle whatever your future holds. Whether you’re wanting to enter a partnership or preparing to retire by bringing on a partner, we can help steer you in the right direction. Contact us today for a complimentary call.