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As I am getting into my 3rd year of practice as a faculty in Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine, I have begun to wish I had a better framework for success in academic medicine. Currently, almost on a daily basis, I have to answer about 100 emails, decide if I want to be on different committees, develop curricula, give lectures, do research, work clinically, mentor residents/medical students, and have a work-life balance. Does this sound familiar, and at the same time overwhelming?

Recently I read several articles on this very topic and thought maybe I would give some perspective on useful strategies to succeed in academic medicine, get recognized, and still have that healthy work-life balance.

1. Define Your Goals

This is the first and most important step. This takes time. In fact, I wasn’t sure what my goals were for the entire first year, as faculty. I had to pass my EM written and oral boards as well as my IM written boards. Talk about a full plate. Considerations here are: What do you love to do? What do you want to be in your career?  So pick goals that align with your view of success.  A great way to objectify this is using the “SMART” framework for writing goals:
  • S = Specific (clear and easily understood)
  • M = Measurable (use a quality metric, quantity, time, and/or cost effectiveness)
  • A = Attainable (within your ability and resources)
  • R = Realistic (within reach)
  • T = Time Bound (can be accomplished in a work cycle)

2. Seek Mentorship

This is critical to career development, academic productivity, and professional success. Identifying an appropriate mentor can be challenging. It is unlikely that you could have all your needs met from a single individual, so prioritizing your goals can help with this. You are looking for someone who has already succeeded in achieving goals you have set for your self (i.e. academic promotion, manuscript publications, research, or speaking at the national level). A successful mentor is someone who is able to provide both reinforcing, as well as, corrective feedback. This is not necessarily the “nice person,” but the “successful person.”

3. Be a Responsible Mentee

Be honest with yourself and your mentor about your visions of success. Don’t say what you think others want to hear. It is your responsibility to plan, set meetings, agendas, and have a fluid exchange of information. Early in your career, quarterly meetings seem to be the way to go, until you get up and going. Then meet twice a year as you get a grasp on what you are doing. 

4. Develop a Niche

A niche is a focus to your career.  It should fulfill personal interests and passions, while at the same time allowing you to achieve recognition and contribute to your institution, specialty, and community. Build on your strengths. Write out a list of your current activities and see if there is a common thread.

Examples include medical education, curriculum development, procedural skills, and administrative leadership roles. Often your niche will choose you, when you least suspect it. Focusing your interests is instrumental to your success. In the early stages of your career, a niche is more likely to be a broad area. After 3-5 years, with the insight of your mentor, you should begin to narrow in focus.

5. It Is OK to Say No Thank You

Be selective and grow into the areas that you find most interesting. Do NOT be afraid to say “NO THANK YOU” to opportunities that may defer time away from the activities that you enjoy or within your niche. This was one of the hardest things for me to do as a junior faculty. I always felt obligated to say yes. But I am here to tell you, it is ok to say no.

6. Need for Additional Professional Development

This is very important, and may not be offered at your institution. Faculty development opportunities should be geared towards enhancing skills related to teaching, curriculum development/assessment, research or leadership. Some specific opportunities we have in the field of EM include:

7. Networking

Make meaningful contacts that are long lasting with others at similar levels of training and similar areas of interest. This enhances visibility and career advancement by enabling you to meet potential future collaborators or mentors. Presenting posters and attending regional and national meetings can assist with this. Additionally, actively participate in committees and interest groups related to your niche and consider volunteering for leadership positions within those groups. This is a great way to develop a reputation external to your institution, which is critical in your promotions process.

8.  Transform Educational Activities into Scholarship

Scholarly activity is a spectrum of accomplishments, which can range from personally-developed course materials to peer-reviewed publications. It is important to know what the policies and procedures for promotion and tenure at your institution are. This allows you to know the institutional definitions for scholarship worthy of promotion. Typically, there are 3 arms: Research & Publication, Teaching, and Service. Research & Publications are easy to quantify, while teaching is harder to quantify.  Set aside at least one half day a month in your schedule dedicated to how to make activities you are involved in result in scholarship.

An educational/teaching portfolio is a must.  Document your teaching, track learner evaluations, curriculum development, and assessments and outcomes of these educational interventions. Keep a list of everything you do and consider publishing innovative ideas.

9. Seek Funding and Other Resources

I have never been taught about resources (funding) necessary for scholarly work, much less where to find this information. It is well known that funding can lead to higher quality of published work and allow for more time for these activities. Your chairman, research director, and mentors can help assist you in identifying funding opportunities. Some funding resources I have found in my reading are:

10. Students are Important

Hospital committees and residents are important, but they are under the banner of the hospital and its CEO. Medical students, however, are under the Dean of the medical school, and the medical school oversees your promotion. Participating in undergraduate medical education events and committees, teaching medical student courses, and mentoring medical students go a long way in your promotion process. 

 

Final thoughts

Being a valued member of your faculty and specialty is the ultimate goal of what we are all striving to be in academic medicine. We often get pulled in many directions, but through thoughtful attention and following these 10 tips, you can continue to make significant contributions in your career in a more organized and efficient manner.

 
Resources:
  1. Castiglioni A. Succeeding as a Clinician Educator: Useful Tips and Resources. JGIM 2013 Apr; 28(1): 136–40. PMID: 23549957
  2. EM:RAP Educators Edition Podcast
  3. Doran GT, Miller AF, Cunningham JA. There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.  Manag Rev.  Nov 1981; 70 (11).  
  4. Mattu A, ed.  FindingYour Niche in Academic Emergency Medicine. Council of Emergency Medicine Residency Directors; 2006 Mar; Las Vegas,NV. (podcast)
  5. Sambunjak D, Straus SE, Marusic A. Mentoring in Academic Medicine: A Systematic Review.  JAMA 2006; 297 (19): 2134–6.  PMC: 2811592
  6. Zerzan JT, Hess R, Schur E, Phillips RS, Rigotti N.  Making the Most of Mentors: A Guide for Mentees. Acad Med 2009; 84 (1): 140–4.  PMID: 19116494
Salim Rezaie, MD

Salim Rezaie, MD

ALiEM Associate Editor
Clinical Assistant Professor of EM and IM
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Founder, Editor, Author of R.E.B.E.L. EM and REBEL Reviews