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May 10, 2012

Pay doesn’t equal happiness for medical school faculty

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Through training, research and patient care, medical school faculty play a vital role in America’s healthcare, which makes determining the key factors in their job satisfaction important to ensuring the U.S. has enough doctors in the years to come.

So Susan M. Pollart, MD, MS, associate dean for faculty development at the University of Virginia School of Medicine , joined with a group of researchers to analyze what makes medical school faculty happy at work. As part of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Faculty Forward initiative – designed to help medical schools attract and retain quality faculty – researchers reviewed surveys from more than 9,600 faculty at 23 U.S. medical schools.

Among their findings, published this month in Academic Medicine: A solid majority of faculty members are satisfied with their jobs, and their paychecks don’t have “significant relationships” with their job satisfaction.

With 10,000 Americans turning 65 each day, finding the keys to satisfied medical school faculty has become especially important, Pollart says. Nationally, only about 60 percent of doctors who take a faculty job each year are still working at a medical school 10 years later, Pollart says. “Will we have the capacity to train the number of physicians we need to train, especially as our population grows and ages?” she asks. Previous studies showed that satisfied physicians are more likely to provide high-quality care and have satisfied patients.

Important factors in faculty satisfaction

Strong leadership – including open communication and enabling faculty to share input on the medical school’s direction – is one key to job satisfaction, the researchers found. For instance, Pollart says, faculty at UVA expressed the need to communicate the value of teaching. So UVA took several steps to highlight the importance of teaching, including the expansion of its yearly teaching awards program and creating an Academy of Distinguished Educators to recognize good teachers and help faculty become better educators.

The researchers also found that building good relationships with colleagues and the nature of the work faculty members performed were important factors.

Plans for more research

Future research by Pollart and her colleagues on the AAMC Faculty Forward research team will include:

What are the important factors that will help doctors remain working at medical schools? Is there an ideal mix of the three main missions of a faculty member – patient care, teaching and research – that will increase job satisfaction?

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