What could be better than doing what you love with the people you love most? I have seen a number of dental family "dynasties." I have seen sons and daughters following a parent into practice and the special rewards that come from working closely with the most important people in your life.

I've experienced it firsthand too, as both my sons have become integral parts of the leadership and ownership at Spear. It's added a whole new dimension to my professional life to be able to work alongside my family.


However, while there are great rewards to working with family, there are also great risks. There are rules to follow in mixing family and business so that you protect the interests of both. There are special considerations that go beyond the usual practice dynamics. After all, you can always change personnel and the practice but family is forever.

So if you are going into practice with a son or daughter, here are six rules to keep in mind:

1. Follow the same process as you would for any other person. Have the practice appraised together so you can determine its present value to your mutual satisfaction. Establish clarity around things like patient allocation and accountability (who does what and which patients go to which doctor). In other words, do everything you would do to facilitate the entrance of a new dentist who didn't share your bloodlines.

2. Promote your new colleague. That means promoting them internally by making sure staff supports them in the right way. Your team may have watched this person grow up, but they have to respect that "the kid" is now "doctor." You should also promote them externally, by making public announcements of the new addition and by introducing them to patients with the right value.

3. Beware of the entitlement mindset. "It's family—why should I have to pay?" That's the feeling many young dentists have when entering a parent's practice. It's up to you to establish ground rules that protect the value of the business. Remember a successful transition is about the continuity of value and you're not setting the right example if you start by devaluing the practice. If they don't pay their way in, they won't value it and ultimately neither of you will feel that they have earned their position. This approach can lead to all kinds of problems in the future.

4. Keep gifts outside the practice. Instead of a discount for a family member on the buy-in or extra generous terms, consider giving them an education gift by helping to finance their development as clinicians and business partners. If you can make your family member more successful at what they do, it will have a far-reaching impact on their producing power and will be valued much more than a discount in the long run. It's a good idea to maintain the integrity of the practice value for tax reasons too. Auditors are always on the lookout for "sweetheart" deals and special arrangements to scrutinize.

5. Remember, you're not a parent at work. Sometimes, parental impulses can lead you to give a family member less consideration than you would another associate. Sometimes it's just hard to let go of the "parent knows best" mindset when you enter the world of business together and that leads you to act unilaterally. In the office though, you're not parent and child, you're doctors and business partners.

6. Create an ownership mindset from the start. Your ultimate goal is to create a future leader who can take over the practice so be sure to consult them on decisions that will have an impact on them. It's what they would expect if they joined any other practice and they should be able to expect it from you.

These are just some of the more common issues that arise in family-centered practices during times of change. In the end every transition is unique, just as every family is unique. This is the reason why I recommend that you bring in the right experts who understand the special dynamics of your situation and can guide you past the obstacles. Masterminding and implementing your own transition in the best of times makes as much sense as performing dentistry on yourself. When you add family to the equation, it becomes more like open-heart surgery.