Mary Smith was a forty-two-year-old office manager working for Dr. A for the past twelve years. Mary enjoyed a good salary and benefits from her job. She and her husband had purchased a new house a few years before, and her children were approaching college age. As a result, her income was necessary to support her family's current lifestyle, and she felt she had job security for as long as Dr. A remained in practice.

Dr. A was sixty-two years old and seemed reasonably healthy. He had never talked about his retirement plans, and Mary never thought it was necessary to discuss his plans. She avoided bringing up the retirement question as though it were something better left alone. As long as he continued to practice, she had a job, so why rock the boat!

Then one day Dr. A had a stroke, and the prognosis was not good. It was uncertain whether Dr. A would even be able to return to work, and no one seemed to know what to do with the dental practice in the meantime. Initially, patients were re-appointed, but when it became evident that Dr. A's recovery would be prolonged, some of the patients began to leave the practice for other dentists in the area.

Dr. A belonged to a dental study club where the members had agreed to provide temporary coverage for a disabled member. Unfortunately, when these dentists worked in the office, Mary discovered that many of their patients ended up transferring to the other dentists' offices, causing a further patient drain on Dr. A's dental practice.

Six months later, Dr. A returned to the dental practice, which was considerably smaller in size, and as a result, there were money problems. Dr. A could only practice two to three days a week, so he had to lay off some employees, and Mary was one of them. Now she had to find a new job, and it was not an easy task. The economy was terrible, and many others were seeking comparable positions. Most other applicants had less experience than she did, but they were willing to work for a lower salary than she had been paid by Dr. A. Even if she found a job in another practice, she would be the "new employee." She would probably have to take a pay cut and lose a lot of her previous benefits. Mary's income needs were increasing at a time when her income was in jeopardy. Being income dependent on a solo practitioner dentist, she discovered, was a risky business.

What could Mary have done to avoid this scenario? She could have questioned Dr. A to get some idea of his retirement plans. She was now aware that her job security depended on the continued operation of the practice, not on Dr. A.

She wished that she had encouraged him to transition his practice by bringing in a new, younger doctor who could have kept the practice going after Dr. A's stroke. Dr. A would not have had to quit practicing dentistry. He could have continued to practice until he was ready to retire. This would have assured the continuity of the practice and provided the staff with job security. This would have prevented Mary from losing her job and being faced with a cut in salary in a new practice. Job security lies with the continuity of the practice, not with the doctor.

There is no time like the present to address these issues. The longer you wait, the greater the risk. It's time to call AFTCO!

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