In academia, faculty are expected to do it all– clinical care, bedside teaching, formal didactics, scholarly work, and administrative projects. Asking for protected time, or release time from clinical work, from your department chair is often a difficult negotiation process, especially for junior faculty.

Fresh out of residency and fellowship training, junior faculty are just excited to get started as an academic faculty member. A downpour of exciting opportunities descends upon you, and you just can’t say no to them! A year later passes, and you realize that you are overwhelmed.

The authors of this paper describe the concept of declaring “professional bankruptcy” in academics. In our struggling financial times, major companies can declare bankruptcy to allow time for rehabilitation and restructuring. The authors argue: Why can’t extremely over-extended academicians do the same?

As a junior faculty, if you feel that your current load of clinical work, responsibilities, and duties is unsustainable, you might consider declaring “professional bankruptcy”. This doesn’t mean that you quit your job, but rather hit the reset button. The authors suggest a 10-step approach to negotiating this reset process.

Top 10 tips against professional bankruptcy

  1. Seek professional guidance. In academia, this means finding mentors, who can help you set realistic professional and personal goals.
  2. List your assets. Identify stakeholders — people and projects who have a stake in your career and obligations.
  3. Market your assets. Find what aspects of work that you find most satisfying. Ideally, these are directly in line with what your institution and department value.
  4. Offer creditors a partial return on investment. Instead of writing 5 textbook chapters, attending weekly Quality Improvement administrative meetings, and teaching monthly at residency conference, you finish 1 complete textbook chapter, attending the QI meeting every OTHER week, and teach less frequently at residency conference.
  5. Sell off unprofitable divisions. This might mean doing a realistic assessment of what you value most in your academic career. Those not making the cut should get dropped, if possible. This means jettisoning the random administrative committee that you are on or the authorship of yet another textbook chapter.
  6. Consider stimulus funds. This means “double-dipping” your efforts so that you magically create more virtual time for your projects. For instance, creating a new clerkship curriculum may also be the subject of a publishable manuscript. Each hour of time now has double the impact.
  7. Outsourcing. Find enthusiastic residents or medical students to mentor and collaborate with on projects.
  8. Rebranding. Find out what your core niche will be, and try to align this with your department’s strategic plan. 
  9. Consider a new job. If your niche and interests are completely out of alignment with your department’s goals, you might need to find a new position. You may be a circle piece trying to fit in a star-shaped puzzle. Face it – you will never fit. 
  10. Take steps to frequently reassess. As you are getting out of professional bankruptcy, periodically reassess your progress with your mentors to avoid bankruptcy again.


Thornburg LL, Glantz JC, Caprio TV, Gillespie SM. Professional Bankruptcy for the Academic Physician. J Grad Med Educ. Sept 2010, 2(3), 485-7.


Michelle Lin, MD
ALiEM Founder and CEO
Professor and Digital Innovation Lab Director
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
Michelle Lin, MD


Professor of Emerg Med at UCSF-Zuckerberg SF General. ALiEM Founder @aliemteam #PostitPearls at Bio:
Michelle Lin, MD