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    Why dental associates often fail

    Viewing an associate as an apprentice rather than a subordinate can make a world of difference.


    The context of apprentice

    The definition of apprentice is someone who works with an expert to develop a particular skill. Note the words “works with,” not “works for.”

    There is a big difference between working with someone and working for someone. The language used in an apprentice conversation is representative of a mutual and symbiotic relationship. It has an emotive content and is contributory — giving without getting. It requires an authentic commitment to the apprentice as a person and brings forth a relationship of leadership and coaching.

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    In an apprentice context, a personal relationship counts, whereas in an associate context, only performance counts. In an apprentice context, the senior party is committed to the apprentice’s skill mastery as well as his or her personal development. In an associate context, the senior party focuses only on results and not on the person.

    Combining these two contexts into a single, unified context would result in a new context that would support successful associateships. I’ve invented a new word to describe this unique context. It’s a combination of associate and apprentice: “approciate.”


    It’s become clear to me, as I work with group practices large and small, that associates are one of their biggest dilemmas. When you examine their existing context, the associate context is far more common than the apprentice context. By simply adding the basic elements of the apprentice context to the associate context, and blending the components of each to generate the new context of “approciate,” many of these associate-related problems would disappear.

    Yes, you need contracts, goals, performance metrics, agreements, policies, etc., but if that is all there is, then the associate will not stay long — nor will the associate feel a sense of responsibility to the practice and to the team.

    The relationships in the associate context cause separation, not unification. The commitments in an associate context are entirely performance-based to produce economic results. The commitments in an apprentice context are achievement-based to guide the apprentice toward mastery of a skill within a nurturing relationship.

    An associate operating within an associate-apprentice combined context is provided the kind of culture, relationships, communication and results that empower the associate to work hard and be committed and responsible.

    Context is decisive. Generate a context of “approciate” and it will make a profound difference for the practice, the associate and the senior doctor.


    Dr. Marc Cooper
    Dr. Cooper's professional career includes private periodontist, academician, researcher, teacher, practice management consultant, ...


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