In the debate over the better model of practice to work in—private or corporate—a preference can reveal a great deal about the practitioner. By John Burfitt
Raise the issue of the differences in working for a corporate dental organisation as opposed to being employed in private practice, and clearly defined sides emerge in the debate.
It‘s been estimated that of Australia’s 6,000 dental practices, almost 10 per cent have now have joined forces with one of the corporate groups.
For all the pros and cons that practitioners and associated professionals in the dental field raise about both areas of practice, one thing becomes clear: any preference reveals more about personality type than it does about a superior business model.
“It doesn’t matter what aspects you are looking at and weighing up, the most important thing is being clear about what type of person you are, and what you need in your workplace,” industry consultant Julie Parker of Melbourne’s Julie Parker Practice Success says.
“If you like order, structure and a large regulated team around you, then a corporate clinic is possibly a great fit. If you’re someone who likes some more flexibility and to be more in charge, then private practice is probably the better way to go.”
A number of points of view from a varied number of parties were sought for an open discussion for this article. What was revealed, however, was that this remains one of the dental profession’s more contentious topics, as many refused to take part, while others would only comment anonymously.
“I just don’t want to be seen bashing the corporates in case I ever have to work there again, as I don’t have too many good things to say,” claimed one industry veteran.
And in the case of three corporate dental clinics that were approached, none responded to interview requests.
Those who were prepared to go on the record explained there are two sides to every story within the debate.
“One thing that has to be said for the corporates is they have created a whole range of new options of employment by creating an alternative model of delivering dentistry, and in this time of oversupply, more jobs may not be a bad thing,” Adelaide’s Dr Peter Alldritt, a member of the ADA’s Oral Health Committee, says.
“I can also well understand why a dentist who is close to retirement would take up a strong offer to sell to a corporate, as they could be better off taking a good value return for a practice today rather than waiting around for five years and who knows where the industry will be at.”
Dr Alldritt has been in private practice for 25 years. He says one of the areas he enjoys least about being in private practice is the responsibility of administration and business matters.
“I can understand why one of the best reasons to work for a corporate is if you don’t want to deal with the back end of the business and just want to do the dentistry you were trained to do—and the corporates might allow that, as there is often a whole team that takes care of the other side of things.”
Having a structured corporate entity already set up to take on responsibility for all aspects of the business can, adds Julie Parker, be a significant attraction.
“With a corporate clinic, you often find a whole lot of structures are already in place, and usually they do things by the book as everything is defined and laid out,” she says. “I know of some smaller practices where some areas of the job descriptions can be a little vague.”
“Running your own business does come with complications away from dentistry, like staffing issues and taking care of areas like tax and super, but I wanted that as I wanted to do things my own way.”—Dr Vas Srinvasan, Invisible Orthodontics, Queensland
There can also be many benefits of being part of a team that has the backing of a larger organisation, with a bigger staff and locations across the country.
“I know of some corporate dentistry companies that offer established mentorship programs that can be so valuable for the dentist who wants to move ahead,” Pam McKean of AB Dental Employment Agency says.
“In a corporate clinic, you might also find some of the best leaders in the industry are on board, and it can be a great learning environment to work around them,” she says. “If you later want to transfer within the company to other clinics in the country, then that can be an important option too, and an offer a small local practice cannot make. If you are prepared to stick with a corporate, you can do well.”
Yet, there are characteristics of being in private practice that a corporate clinic simply cannot match, states Dr Vas Srinvasan, of Invisible Orthodontics on the Sunshine Coast.
“I worked for a corporate for a short period, but it was not right for me as I wanted to run my own clinic and do my own thing,” he says.
“Running your own business does come with complications away from dentistry, like staffing issues and taking care of areas like tax and super, but I wanted that as I wanted to do things my own way.
“What I found with a corporate was that they had a policy for everything, but on many occasions, everything was approached with a one policy applies to all—and that does not work all the time. It suited me better to be in private practice, making decisions as they needed to be handled.”
Adds Julie Parker, “If you are the kind of dentist who wants more creativity, some control of what you are doing and some input into the direction of the business, then private is a far better fit.
“In private, you can have control over what is going on with the number of bookings and how many patients you will see that day, and there can be more variation in the time you devote to each patient. What I know about corporates is it’s a far stricter model and a bottom line needs to be met, so the dentist has to fall in line to follow that.”
Dr Alldritt also acknowledges the importance of a dentist-patient relationship in maintaining any successful practice. “The patients know that with a private practice, they will get to see the same faces, and we get to know the patients on a personal level,” he says.
“I would hate to risk any intervention with my clinical relationship with my patients, and that would be too big a risk for me to take.
“I also don’t want to be told what materials have to be used. If I decide to use an expensive item, as it is the best and will last the longest, I want the freedom to do that, rather than being told these materials have already been ordered in bulk and so need to be used regardless.”
Pam McKean says the employment of assistants, which can be critical factor for the dentist as the person they spend hours working alongside, can be better controlled in private practice.
“In private, you can decide who works with you, but I know of some corporate clinics where recruitment is done off site, and so someone is sent to work with the dentist they have never met before. If the fit is not right, then the job is much harder for all.
“But just like anywhere, the dynamics vary from practice to practice, no matter if it’s a corporate or private. It’s more a matter of knowing how they are different and how that will work for you.”