Academic Medicine: Demystifying the Appointment Process

The road after cardiology fellowship, as in many other specialties, can lead to various career paths. The choices are varied – private practice vs. practice in an academic setting, a clinical practice vs. research predominant, to name a few of the choices that we face.

After completing my heart failure fellowship, I knew, as many newly indoctrinated cardiologists do, that I wanted to pursue a career that was ascribed to academic medicine. Though the term “academic medicine” can be nebulous, it generally encompasses a career that incorporates clinical medicine, teaching responsibilities, as well as scholarly activities including research, publications, and occasionally directorial or managerial positions within the department. Those who pursue a career in the academic track often strive for promotion and tenure in their academic institution, with entry at the level of an assistant professor with eventual rise through the ranks to associate professor and, ultimately, professor.

I enjoyed the world of academic medicine, as it incorporated all the aspects of medicine that I relished. However, like many other early career cardiologists, I found the process required to maintain and progress through an academic track extremely daunting. It appeared impossible to achieve all the steps and I was overwhelmed with what I felt was the complexity of the academic track and the pursuit of the promotion of the next rank.

Early in my career, I was given sage advice by my mentors on how to make the process more manageable and less daunting. Here are some key points to ease the process for fellow early career colleagues who also wish to pursue a career in academic medicine:

1. Start and maintain a portfolio as early in your career as possible.

I had learned that, though institutions can vary on their criteria, core components of your academic portfolio should include:

  • Letters of recommendation
    • Learn early in your career on how many letters are required. Some institutions may require letters both within and external of your department.
  • Scholarly/Research work
    • Learn early during your career how many publications/abstracts are required per year, and the requirements to be considered an eligible publication.
  • Curriculum vitae
    • This should include your publications with copies of peer-review publications and description of impact and relevance to your field.
  • A teaching portfolio
    • This will often comprise the majority of your portfolio and thus should be updated regularly. To further what your teaching portfolio should include:
      • Teaching activities. This should list all your teaching activities in chronological order, including type or format of class and numbers, lectures, small group sessions, workshops, and any performed clinical precepting.
      • Curricular development. Include curriculum topic and type (e.g., clerkship module, fellowship research experience), where it is implemented (department, institution, etc.) and your degree of responsibility (leader or contributor).

2. Track your scholar and research activity on a regular basis.

3. Begin tracking all your activity as early as possible.

4. Collect evaluations by trainees.

Provide data on how your teaching evaluations compare to those of your peers. Include any communications from students, including thank you notes and emails.

5. Compile a list of advising and mentoring experiences.

This should include the names of your mentees; number of years in mentorship; and their current position and significant achievements (e.g., papers, awards, grants, promotions, leadership positions.)

6. Include educational administration work.

This should include:

  • Name of educational committee(s) that you lead or are a member and your level of involvement.
  • Publications and scholarly products related to education.
  • Workshops and peer-reviewed/invited presentations on educational topics.

7. Highlight your professional development in education.

This includes conferences, certification or degree programs, or other educational professional development activities that you have attended as a learner to demonstrate that commitment to ongoing education.

Though the process to achieve appointment in academic medicine can be arduous, early maintenance of an academic portfolio can help alleviate what may seem like a formidable and intimidating task.

Special thanks to Val Rakita MD, Assistant Professor at Temple University, for his help and guidance on this article. 

This article was written by Preethi Pirlamarla, MD, Assistant Professor of Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Twitter: @PPirlamarla_MD

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