Part-Time Dental Associate Agreements

                Many dental practices offer new dentists part-time work when they are starting their career following dental school training or training to be a specialist.  The agreements that are offered to part-time dentists can be designed to just offer temporary solutions to a practice which is getting busier than the owner and present associates can handle, or can present an opportunity for further advancement within the practice, creation of goodwill with a regular patient base, and the possibility of ownership.  The agreement should be analyzed by the prospective associate and his or her attorney for these and other factors before signing.

It is very important that the contract be termed an “employment contract” or an associate agreement that designates the associate as an employee.  The part-time associate is an employee and not an independent contractor unless the owner wants to give up complete control of the dentist’s work and schedule and contract with an actual  separate  business  the new dentist has set up.  Federal and state taxes for social security,  workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance must be deducted from the amount paid out.

The compensation can be on a per diem, production/collections or salary basis.  Payment per diem is easier to calculate for the associate as far as a budget is concerned. $850-$950/day is a good range for average per diem payments.  Payment by collections may delay receipt of compensation for awhile and risks the patient or insurance not paying.  Payment by this manner is usually around 35% of collections or 40% for specialists. It can prove worthwhile if the associate is guaranteed that he or she will be performing more complex, lucrative procedures, but may be much less appealing if the procedures are more hygiene or routine dentistry oriented.   The production mechanism can be a boon to practices to keep their associates working harder and faster in order to get the maximum dentistry done.

Are there benefits being offered for the part-time work?  Chances are there is no vacation time available if there are only a few days work per week, but there might be paid time out provisions to look for.  Will the practice pay for CLEs that are required to maintain a license? Can the associate can access to the practice health insurance plan? Does the practice require you to pay for your own malpractice insurance? These are all factors to consider when weighing the total compensation package.

What will the schedule be like?  Does it allow freedom to work elsewhere on a regular basis?  The practice may require notice or consent for the dentist to work part-time at another practice to gain additional income or experience.   Also, the practice may be shifting your work locations to other practice sites, which can be  burdensome on living and commuting arrangements.

Is there an extensive non-competition or restrictive covenant agreement in the contract?  Restrictive covenants can prevent the associate from practicing within a certain geographical distance from the employing practice for the time employed as well as for a certain time afterwards.  One year is a good minimum duration and 5 miles is a reasonable distance, while three years and 10 miles can be more burdensome.  You can carry some of the goodwill you’ve obtained within the community with you after a certain waiting period if there is a less extensive restrictive covenant agreement.  Be aware also that in Massachusetts there is legislation pending to limit restrictive covenants to 1 year in duration, with the requirement of a certain amount of consideration for putting the provision in a contract in the first place.

An associate could look at a part-time employment position as just a temporary step which allows the payment of school loans to a reasonable figure while gaining some beginning experience in the field.  Or the part-time position with someone the associate likes to work with, at a practice where valuable goodwill is built with a regular patient base, and where increased hours and ownership eventually is a possibility.   A look at all factors involved in the position is important, for the start of the work as a dentist can be a base for a long lucrative career if handled carefully.