Academic Deliverables and Job Descriptions

Participation in teaching activities and collaborative research projects are noble obligations of any faculty member in an academic Department of Internal Medicine. They do not need to be specifically mentioned (or remunerated) in a job description, but are part of the academic job per se. What do I mean by that? Bedside teaching, lecturing in undergraduate and postgraduate curricula, and participating in CME events, as well as serving as examiner in the various in-training exams are expected from each and every academic physician, irrespective of his/her job description. Along the same line, recruiting patients into ongoing clinical trials, collection of patient samples for research purposes, and supporting other research activities is expected from any academic physician in our Department.

Beyond that, job descriptions are means to communicate specific expectations to faculty members and form the basis of performance management. Job descriptions define accountabilities and deliverables. The job description of an academic physician defines his/her role as faculty in a University Hospital and the associated expectations in delivery of health care services, research, and education.

In our Department there currently exist a myriad of individual job descriptions ranging from 20% to over 80% protected time for research, the remainder percentage being made of, again highly variable, teaching and service components. This high variability from individual contract to individual contract makes it difficult to define and compare deliverables and accountabilities across faculty. Thus, e.g. in which deliverables/accountabilities do job descriptions with 20% vs. 25% or between 40% and 50% protected time for research differ? Can one really measure with the required accuracy the time spent in the various components of an academic physician’s job description down to the single digit percentage?

In addition, experience from elsewhere and, most importantly, the analysis of our own data in the Department of Medicine clearly shows that faculty members with less than 50% protected time for research will rarely ever be successful as an independent researcher, lead investigator driven projects, and attract peer reviewed national grant support as a principal investigator. This holds especially true for young faculty members who need enough protected time to get their research enterprise off the ground in the years after their initial recruitment.

Many universities have therefore simplified job descriptions of academic physicians into three main categories, namely clinician-teacher (80% clinical, 20% teaching), clinician-investigator (50% clinical, 50% research), and clinician-scientist (20% clinical, 80% research), respectively. BTW: some universities even consider 50% protected time for research too little for junior faculty to become competitive in national grant competitions and discuss eliminating the clinician-investigator track. Only a handful of faculty members may fall into a few additional categories including clinician-educator (large work load component of program development/administration) or clinician-administrator, but those are far and few between.

Based on the above it seems worth considering harmonizing the academic job descriptions in our Department. In the coming months, we will engage with all of you, but in particular with those who have protected research time, in a conversation around opportunities to harmonize academic job descriptions and their associated deliverables and accountabilities.

Eberhard Renner, MD