Dentist Career Paths: DSOs, Associateships, & Practice Ownerships

Posted by on Dec 5, 2022 9:00:00 AM

You have a number of paths to consider for your dental career, including starting your own practice, joining an established practice, becoming a member of a dental service organization (DSO), entering academia, and more. 

With these options available, you may wonder: how do each of these paths differ and how do I choose? Here are four common paths, what they entail, and their relative advantages: 


1. Working for a Dental Service Organization (DSO)

A Dental Service Organization (DSO) is a business that connects with practices to create a supportive network and provide career opportunities for professionals of all levels. Working at a DSO is similar to working for a corporation, as opposed to working for a small, privately-owned practice. Some practices are even purchased by or partner with DSOs to relieve themselves of the challenges involved with day-to-day operations. 

A DSO may be an attractive path — particularly right after dental school —  because it can provide you with consistent work at established practices, ensuring you have a reliable source of income and, in some cases, included benefits. 

As you gain experience and advance in your career, you may have opportunities to grow through promotions in the organization. 

Finally, as you near retirement, DSOs may encourage you to continue working at your practice in a different capacity to help maintain your income. You may also be permitted to work part-time prior to retirement. 


2. Associateships

Working as an associate dentist, sometimes called an “associateship”, is a great way to learn from a practice owner or group of partners early in your career. 

Associate dentists are often hired by owners who want to focus more on the business side of the practice while the associates take care of the day-to-day dentistry work. Dentists looking to grow their practice may also consider hiring an associate dentist, as it allows the practice to continue to add new patients.

In addition, as an associate, you typically won’t have to worry about many of the stresses that accompany running a business. 

An associateship may provide work-life balance and allow you to get accustomed to working at a dental practice without worrying about the business aspects. Working as an associate may also provide a consistent salary, benefits packages, and, sometimes, the opportunity to buy into the practice and become a full partner down the line. 


3. Becoming a Partner in a Practice

There are a couple of ways you can begin working as a practice partner: 

  • First, you may receive an invitation from an existing practice owner — likely one you have worked with before — to become a partner. 
  • Second, you can become a partner in the long term by starting a practice and potentially adding partnerships after the practice is well established and your patient volume requires multiple doctors.

Becoming a partner has a number of benefits, one of the biggest being a partial ownership in the practice in which you work. It also allows you to get real-world business experience as you continue practicing dentistry while splitting those responsibilities with the other partners in the practice. 


4. Starting a Practice 

Provided you have the resources to start a practice yourself, you can become a practice owner at any point in your career. In addition, you may have the opportunity to buy out the remaining shares in a practice partnership or buy a practice directly from a sole owner. 

Regardless of your specific purchasing process, being the owner of a dental practice allows you to have total control over your business, but it also means you do the work of both a dentist and a business owner. If you don’t have a desire to be an entrepreneur or formal business training and experience, this may pose a challenge. 

If you need additional help managing your practice, you can identify practice management consultants or other business advisors to help shore up your business skills. 

One of the key benefits of ownership is ownership! Near retirement, practice owners are the recipients of proceeds of the practice sales. 


Wherever You Are in Your Career, We’re Here To Help

There are many paths to take in your career as a dentist, and most of these options overlap in one way or another. Whether you’re in training, own a practice, or are preparing for retirement, Treloar & Heisel provides dental professionals with insurance and wealth management solutions that are designed for you. 

Contact us today to speak with our professionals and see how we can provide you with the right coverage for your career path! 

About Treloar & Heisel

Treloar & Heisel, an EPIC company, offers dental and medical professionals a comprehensive suite of financial products and services ranging from business and personal insurance to wealth management. We are proud to assist thousands of clients from residency to practice and through retirement. Our experienced teams deliver custom-tailored advice through an active local presence, while our strong national network ensures that clients experience the same high level of service throughout the country.

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