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Engage faculty members in program expectations from the start


Communication is the key to optimizing the potential of every instructor. 

Clear and effective communication can go a long way to satisfy both the medical program’s needs and those of the faculty members, who need support from the chair and medical school. 

Reviewed by Vivek R. Patel, MD

In an ideal world, all faculty members are equally motivated. They all want to teach, and teaching is a clear part of the job description. In the real world, however, faculty members are not motivated by the same things.

The reasons for being in academia vary widely, and expectations and feedback are not always clearly communicated, according to Vivek R. Patel, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology, director of the Neuro-Ophthalmology Service, and director of education at the University of Southern California Roski Eye Institute, Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles.

“Faculty members are not born challenging,” he said.

Challenge born

This can occur as a result of competing demands of the institution and the individual.

Program expectations include good supervisory coverage for all sites, dedicated teachers, didactic curriculum champions, help with surgical curricula, mentors (research, clinical and personal) for residents, managing residents’ expectations, and satisfying Graduate Medical Education and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requirements, Dr. Patel explained.

In contrast, faculty members have their own set of needs, including clinical demands, financial productivity, research goals, managing patients’ expectations, and academic development.

Barriers to successfully meshing the complex list of needs include limited time, the requirement to fulfill roles for which faculty members are not necessarily motivated, and the lack of acknowledgement or incentive to contribute to education.

Dr. Patel emphasized that faculty members feel stretched to their limits balancing competing responsibilities.

“Not every role is equally interesting to everyone, and a lack of incentive is an important problem to address as medical school educators,” he said.

To deal with the challenges that can arise today, there are several principles to live by.

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Learn about the department

Dr. Patel advised that faculty members should try to learn the identity or mission of their department and program.

“We need to work within our departmental mission; departments differ in that respect,” he said. “Some are research-heavy, others are more clinical.”

Dr. Patel added that the teaching faculty must reflect the identity of the program to some degree.

“Besides knowing the program, it is also important to know the individuals in the program and their strengths and interests,” he said. “We can all contribute to the program but not necessarily in the same way.”

There are many ways in which faculty members can contribute, including teaching in the operating room, and clinic, industry liaison, research and practice-management mentorships, didactic lectures, grand rounds, and quality improvement, to name a few. Dr. Patel suggested that no generic solution is needed.

Faculty members can get involved in two or three options, giving them a range of ways to engage.

This process could help identify any faculty members who may feel alienated by the academic environment and are being asked to do something that they do not want to do, he explained.

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This can happen by asking colleagues about which areas of the program mission they believe they can contribute to most.

Having said that, abstain from over-burdening those individuals who are motivated to get involved. This will ensure that they don’t become overwhelmed.

However, if the demands of the program are too great, looking elsewhere is an option, and there are some possible solutions.

This can include getting assistance from volunteers or adjunct faculty, the latter of which can be hired for perhaps one day a week to provide support.

Another creative option, if the institution is lacking a particular area of experience, “away” rotations can afford residents the needed training at another facility.

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The program expectations should be clearly expressed to faculty members to determine what they can contribute to the program and what is expected back.

“Not everyone feels like they are getting sufficient feedback,” Dr. Patel explained. “Faculty generally never get feedback about how they are teaching and how they are received by residents and other faculty members. This should be done before they become alienated.”

Rather than mandated improvement engagement, faculty members need support from the chairman, and medical school to help foster the vision for a well-rounded, and balanced program.

“Ultimately, we must establish a culture of recognizing and acknowledging education as a contribution worthy of compensation and promotion that includes clinical-educator promotions,” Dr. Patel concluded. “People who are great educators, and clinicians can succeed in academics, and be valued in that context.” 



Vivek R. Patel, MD
E: vivek.patel@med.usc.edu                                                                                                                                                                                                     Dr. Patel has no financial interest in any aspect of this report.

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