Why New Dentists Should Consider Becoming Associates

What is a dental associateship?

For recent graduates of dental school, it is crucial to get hands on experience, and earn a living, especially given the fact the student loans will need to be paid off. While some new dentists may have the business savvy and access to financing needed to launch their own practice, another option is to become a dental associate.

What is a dental associate?

As the name implies, dental associates are dentists who work in a dental practice but are not owners. Instead, they either work as an employee of an established practice or, in the alternative, as an independent contractor. 

In an employee arrangement, it is common to enter into an employment contract that clarifies the dentist’s relationship with the practice and the rights and responsibilities of both parties. In particular, the contract specifies how much the dentist will be compensated, how he or she will be paid, how paid time off accrues, the duration, termination procedures, and whether employee benefits such as health insurance coverage and retirement plans like 401(k)s are included.

In addition, an employee contract for a dental associate will often include restrictive covenants such as a non-compete provision which limits the dentist from taking a position with another practice in the same geographical region for a set amount of time. The contract may also include a non-solicitation clause that prohibits the dentist from soliciting patients and employees.

As an employee, the dentist is under the supervision of the owner of the practice. In its capacity as employer, the practice is responsible for deducting and paying employment taxes and must adhere to a variety of state and federal employment laws.

On the other hand, an independent contractor is not an employee of a practice. This arrangement also requires entering into a contract that specifies the nature of independent contractor relationship, compensation structure the rights and responsibilities of each party, and it may contain non-compete provisions.

It is important to note that an independent contractor is responsible for paying his or her employment taxes which requires filing estimated quarterly payroll taxes with the Internal Revenue Service. At the end of the year, the employer is required to provide a form 1099 showing the amount of compensation the independent contractor received.

The Takeaway

There are a number of considerations involved in becoming a dental associate and determining whether to work as an employee or an independent contractor, not the least of which is the financial standing of the practice and its history of providing quality care. For this reason, it is essential to engage the services of an attorney with experience negotiating dental associateships