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J Grad Med Educ. 2010 Sep;2(3):478-84. doi: 10.4300/JGME-D-10-00100.1.

Advantages and challenges of working as a clinician in an academic department of medicine: academic clinicians' perspectives.



The provision of high-quality clinical care is critical to the mission of academic and nonacademic clinical settings and is of foremost importance to academic and nonacademic physicians. Concern has been increasingly raised that the rewards systems at most academic institutions may discourage those with a passion for clinical care over research or teaching from staying in academia. In addition to the advantages afforded by academic institutions, academic physicians may perceive important challenges, disincentives, and limitations to providing excellent clinical care. To better understand these views, we conducted a qualitative study to explore the perspectives of clinical faculty in prominent departments of medicine.


Between March and May 2007, 2 investigators conducted in-depth, semistructured interviews with 24 clinically excellent internal medicine physicians at 8 academic institutions across the nation. Transcripts were independently coded by 2 investigators and compared for agreement. Content analysis was performed to identify emerging themes.


Twenty interviewees (83%) were associate professors or professors, 33% were women, and participants represented a wide range of internal medicine subspecialties. Mean time currently spent in clinical care by the physicians was 48%. Domains that emerged related to faculty's perception of clinical care in the academic setting included competing obligations, teamwork and collaboration, types of patients and productivity expectations, resources for clinical services, emphasis on discovery, and bureaucratic challenges.


Expert clinicians at academic medical centers perceive barriers to providing excellent patient care related to competing demands on their time, competing academic missions, and bureaucratic challenges. They also believe there are differences in the types of patients seen in academic settings compared with those in the private sector, that there is a "public" nature in their clinical work, that productivity expectations are likely different from those of private practitioners, and that resource allocation both facilitates and limits excellent care in the academic setting. These findings have important implications for patients, learners, and faculty and academic leaders, and suggest challenges as well as opportunities in fostering clinical medicine at academic institutions.

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