How to transition your practice to an associate

Transitioning your practice can be hard, but having someone you trust can make the whole process easier.

If there is a qualified associate working for the selling dentist, plans can be made to have that associate acquire the practice in a timely, cost effective transition. The associate will have clinical skills as well as administrative experience, so there will most likely be a smooth transition.

It is also likely that there will be a retention of the infrastructure and less patient turn over. The practice will normally continue with an approach similar to selling a dentist’s business. This way, the transition will be easier than if the seller had taken the alternate route of going through a practice broker or some other avenue.

Related article: Transitioning a dental practice after death

The transition time will be much shorter, since the seller need only look into his or her own practice for the right person. Sometimes a transition with a practice broker can take months or even a year, based on the seller’s parameters and search for the buyer.

There are practice brokers who can and will assist the seller and associate in formatting the guidelines needed to complete the transaction, as well as explaining what must be accomplished with paper work. This assistance is offered for a fee. Make sure the practice broker has this experience, before you retain one for this important event! This can be helpful if the selling dentist does not have an experienced dental CPA in an advisory capacity

How much does it cost?

How many times does a dentist’s advisor discuss the need for support for his or her own protection against illness, death or disability? Is the conversation about a partnership or acquisition status?

Besides that negative approach, it is also a smart way to the eventual exit strategy for the experienced dentist. Who better to acquire the practice than a professional who already knows the patients and staff?

With this type of transition, the cost to sell should be much cheaper for the seller and buyer. There is no commission to pay, fewer advisory fees for legal services, and typically only the dental CPA and practice evaluator to spend time with discussing the transaction. An evaluation of the practice should be completed so the buyer and seller don’t look at each other to determine the value of the dental practice and wonder if their assessment is correct. A dental evaluator is a must for an arms-length valuation and use in assisting the buyer with financing. This is similar to buying a house and getting an appraisal to help you determine the value, as well as to provide assistance with financing. 

Related article: Relying on outdated dental practice valuations

Up next: How and when to start the transition process


It is fairly typical for an associate to work for a few years to develop the trust and goodwill of the owner as well as that of the patients and staff. During this time, on many occasions, the associate may feel as if he or she is working to raise the eventual sale price. If the potential new owner or partner approaches the dentist about working against his or her own interest, the owner may want to consider discounting the purchase price to account for the sweat equity being developed by the associate.

The owner has been earning income off the associate’s labors while having the value of the practice increase with this relationship. The consideration of a discount or type of preferential financing may be appropriate for the associate, if this discussion occurs. When one considers brokerage fees, the time on the market and the potential for the staff to hear about the transition and fear for their jobs, a discount may be a cheap price to pay for a quick, easy transfer.

Related article: How to find the most buyers for your practice transition

How to begin

Of course, having a well-seasoned and trusted associate is the first step. The conversations with that person should be taking place almost as soon as the associate signs the employment agreement.

Next come discussions with the dental CPA, assuming that the dentist has retained one. From that point, conversations will occur and the transition to the associate is on its way. It may be a few years or months, but the guidelines are being established as time passes.