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Should You Associate First?

I often receive questions received from chiropractic students as they prepare to practice. Today's question: Do you recommend working for a year or so as an associate before starting a practice? And if so, what advice you would give for finding an associate position where I could really start to learn.

A reality check is needed for that question to be answered honestly.  You must do a personal assessment of your skills as well as a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).  Do you have the ability to go from college to practice without bridging that huge chasm?  We can talk about desire and passion which must be a factor, but you should have the same passion as an associate as you do your own practice.

When you have a passion for creating an amazing product and the entrepreneurial spirit to take a risk, this might be the right time for you. There’s no rule that states that once you start your own practice, you can’t learn along the way from other practices, but you must take that initiative to obtain the information. 

When I started my practice, I created a network of chiropractors that I could call on with clinical or business questions.  I also never limited my learning potential to just the chiropractic profession.  All doctors practicing in their own practices face the same challenges and I learn from them on a constant basis. 

When I was in chiropractic school, I asked this exact question to some of my professors – should I choose to work and get some experience before launching into my own practice? 

I will never forget the professor who told me that NO – I would only waste time by learning over and over what not to do and only find myself deeper in debt (mentally, physically and financially) the longer I worked for someone, making it more difficult to open up on my own. There were others however who suggested that an associateship was the right path.  For some of my classmates it certainly was, but for me I elected to go on my own, with incredible help from my family and network.

Starting a practice is difficult enough and it’s better that you don’t know certain things until the time is right.  This would be true of learning any sport.  However, lack of knowledge is no excuse for breaking the law and that is what can happen if you do not know certain things that are essential.

Now the exception to everything I just said would be that if you have a lack of confidence in treating patients, which is perfectly normal, and working with another doctor offers an avenue for clinical skill training then I would absolutely work with another doctor.  Even sharing space and paying rent to open in that doctor’s office, given it makes good business sense, would make good common sense as well. 

There are a few doctors I really look up to and continue to learn so much from, including the doctor I interned with in school.  If any of these doctors asked me to come work for them, I would want to jump at the opportunity because it would make me that much better of a doctor.

One of the biggest issues to resolve is the economic issue, because a lack of funding causes most businesses to fail. You need to be in a position to sustain yourself from opening day to break even day. After that, good business judgment will carry you to success.

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