Dental franchise vs. independent practice

May 23, 2019

Pros and cons for new dental school grads to consider.

You’ve done it. You’ve completed all of your classes and requirements and graduated from dental school (or you’re about to). It’s time to get yourself that white lab coat and look for your first job as a dentist. Your two main options are working for a private practice or a dental franchise. So, which one should you pick? There’s no right or wrong answer, so we’ve compiled our top tips to help new dental graduates make the best decision for their future career aspirations.

Learn the differences between the two

As the name suggests, private practices are owned by the dentist who runs them. If the private practice employs multiple dentists, they may all be co-owners. Sometimes new dentists are given the option to buy into the practice as well. On the other hand, dental franchises are owned and operated by a managing company or investor. They’re sometimes referred to as Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) and offer multiple offices and locations under the same brand. Dental franchises may be confined to one region or spread across multiple states. Some of the largest DSOs in the U.S. include Heartland Dental, Aspen Dental, Pacific Dental Services, Smile Brands and American Dental Partners.

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Weigh the pros and cons

In a private practice, you’re involved in the entire process of running a dental office, especially as you earn more experience. This means that you not only do dentistry, but you also have to think about hiring and firing, billing, staff training, patient scheduling, marketing and other administrative tasks. Even if you’re not involved in the day-to-day work of these to-do items, you’ll still have to make decisions about them on a high level.

On the flipside, at a dental franchise, the managing company takes care of all these decisions for you, so you don’t have to worry about them. However, it also means that when something goes awry, you don’t have a lot of power to change it. Dental franchises also provide the option to move between offices and even cities, a flexibility that most private practices simply can’t match.

Decide what kind of patient relationships you want

Private practices have a reputation for nurturing deep, long-standing patient relationships as compared to dental franchises, and there’s some truth to that. Due to the turnover in both patients and staff at franchises, it can be harder to build up those relationships and maintain them over time. This isn’t a deal breaker, but if you’re the type of person who thrives on consistency and getting to know others really well, you’ll get more of that at a private practice.

Consider your long-term career goals

Is your ultimate goal to own your own private practice? If it is, then you’d be wise to get as much private practice experience as possible before you strike out on your own, starting with your first job out of dental school. On the other hand, if you’re thinking about opening your own franchise eventually, you’ll want experience on that side of the business before taking the leap. Neither option is right or wrong, and you might even change your mind after working for either a private practice or a corporate franchise. It’s much better you figure this out early on in your career than after you’ve already committed to opening an office.

Factor in other decisions

Dental franchise versus independent practice isn’t the only decision you’ll have to make. Location is very important, especially if you’re trying to move to a new city. Benefits such as health insurance may also play a role, and of course salary is incredibly important, especially if you’ve got student loans to pay off. Figure out which factors are nonnegotiable and then look for jobs from there. For example, if you’re really committed to moving to a particular city-say, your partner already has a job there-then you might need to be a bit flexible on whether you work for a franchise or a practice.

Ask to shadow at the offices

Shadowing is a key part of any dentist’s education, and it can also play a critical role in finding a job. If possible, while you’re still in school, ask to shadow at an office where you’d be interested in working. This will give you firsthand experience of the dental franchise versus independent practice environments and you’ll have already established a connection with the dentists, which is much easier to do before you’re actively looking for a job. While you’re there, pay attention to how the dentist treats the staff and patients and what the office culture seems to be like. Are people friendly and chatty or all business? The more places you can shadow, the more you’ll learn what kind of work environment you want.

Related reading: Top challenges of transitioning to a group practice

Cast a wide net

Whether you decide to look at private practices or dental franchises (or both), it’s a good idea to cast a wide net as you look for job openings. Field-specific job boards such as the American Dental Association’s CareerCenter job board are a great place to start. Ask around in your personal network to see if anyone knows of any openings. If you’re moving to a new city and you don’t have any contacts there yet, reach out to local dentist organizations to see if you can get involved. They may also host their own job board specific to the area.

Finding that first job after school can be daunting, but as long as you start looking in advance and think critically about what you want out of your career, you’ll make a good decision. No matter what job you accept, nothing beats the feeling of putting on your safety eyewear for your first real day of work.

Good luck on finding that perfect first job, and congrats on graduating from dental school!