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Investigating Flexibility for Faculty in Academic Medicine

December 30, 1899


​In partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, ACE has been investigating the structural and cultural changes necessary to better balance professional and personal lives for faculty in academic medicine.

The Alfred P. Sloan Projects for Faculty Career Flexibility 

To assist universities in recruiting and retaining highly talented and diverse faculty members, the American Council on Education (ACE), in partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, has been investigating the structural and cultural changes necessary to better balance professional and personal lives. The ACE-Sloan Projects on Faculty Career Flexibility are currently focusing on medical school faculty, both in academic medical centers and in hospitals. The following activities have assisted us in gathering information about the drivers behind the need for flexibility in academic medicine. We hope to identify win-win solutions for both institutions and individuals.

Recognizing and Rewarding Faculty Career Flexibility in Academic Medicine

After investigating the structural and cultural constraints for faculty career flexibility in academic medicine, ACE conducted a fourth round of the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Faculty Career Flexibility, with a focus on medical schools. These awards, listed below, recognize and reward medical schools demonstrating policies and promising practices that provide unbiased opportunities for work/life balance. Five awards of $250,000 were given for excellence in faculty career flexibility as well as two smaller awards of $25,000 for innovative programs, promising practices, and/or models that can be adopted by a larger number of medical schools. The winners and project findings were announced in September 2012.

Descriptions of the recipients' best practices are listed below:

Boston University School of Medicine will build on innovative existing policies and programs that facilitate professional and personal balance while implementing new initiatives that provide multiple levels of mentoring. Boston University's Emerging Leaders Forum and Academy for Faculty Advancement will be expanded into a new leadership forum to assist mid-career faculty who have not yet reached full professorship. Additionally, the school of medicine will create an online database of mentors and facilitate communities of practice to stimulate peer and senior mentoring to foster career flexibility. The school of medicine plans to collaborate with its affiliated hospital partners to address unconscious bias in search committees and strengthen programs to increase sensitivity around the needs of LGBT faculty.

The Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM) will capitalize on its culture of support for faculty vitality to accelerate faculty career flexibility. Using a comprehensive, evidence-based approach, IUSM's planned activities focus on three areas that have been shown to lead to high satisfaction: role clarity, social support for work/life integration, and input into one's schedule. The programs will engage and advocate for faculty at all phases of the career life cycle, from the recruitment of prospective faculty to existing junior, mid-career, and senior faculty and institutional leaders by: improving communication and education about institutional policies, increasing support for flexibility in the practice plan, providing greater support for dependent caregiving demands, and increasing the engagement of part-time and senior faculty.

The Stanford University School of Medicine (CA) seeks to align flexibility policies with the culture of academic medicine, acknowledging the pressure of combining the tripartite mission of research, teaching, and patient care inherent in a medical school. The school seeks to make flexibility policies a core part of the faculty advancement process. Academic Biomedical Career Customization (ABCC), a new initiative, will bridge the gap between policies and their cultural acceptance. This initiative, centrally funded, adapts and enhances Deloitte LLP's Mass Career Customization model. ABCC will include customized career tracks and counseling on leveraging flexibility practices and additional onsite and at-home support to make flexibility work at the local level. The plan will kick off with a communications campaign that will incorporate the use of social media.

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (WUSM) plans to accelerate the transformation of its culture by developing new support options to increase flexibility in faculty careers. One such program, the Family-Wise peer mentors, will provide training to faculty at early stages of their careers by experienced female and male faculty who have successfully navigated the academic world at WUSM while starting and supporting families. WUSM's new Career-Flex Training Team will train these Family-Wise peer mentors, along with WUSM's executive faculty and its appointments and promotions committees, in order to infuse the acceptance of career flexibility within the school of medicine. Readily accessible online modules will be created to supplement the team training, and WUSM will launch a publicity campaign to make its flexibility support options more prominent. WUSM also plans to develop new policies, such as offering shared faculty positions on non-tenured faculty tracks and studying the feasibility of allowing part-time status on the tenure track.

The University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) accelerator plan will focus on the central theme of faculty talent management through an institutionally integrated approach to support the needs of academic physicians and scientists throughout their careers with proactive and innovative professional development and flexibility programs, policies, and practices. A new office of faculty talent management will connect faculty with resources through a program of customized individual support. Other linked initiatives will include standard guidelines that allow for customization of part-time employment and phased retirement policies to meet individual and departmental goals, expanded opportunities for mentoring, and new programs for faculty rejuvenation. Toward the end of the grant period, UMMS will convene a national conference to accelerate the dissemination of successful strategies for faculty flexibility and talent management.

The State University of New York Upstate Medical University will use the Sloan Innovation Award to further educate its faculty, department chairs, and promotion committee members about its innovative "trackless" promotion system. Faculty on the trackless system can choose an area of excellence (clinical, research, education) in which they can be promoted for leadership and innovation. The trackless system has opened the path of promotion to part-time faculty. The University of California,  Davis School of Medicine will use the Sloan Innovation Award  for three purposes: 1) create workshops for raising awareness of unconscious biases, particularly those related to "face-time";  2) implement policies that  address the needs of newly identified at-risk  faculty groups and  ensure that  policies are gender- and  age-neutral and  unaffected by social determinants such as financial situation and  ethnic/racial culture; and 3) widen  acceptance of career flexibility within the  medical school community by educating faculty,  department chairs, and  administrators on the existence of policies, the threats of work-life conflict to faculty satisfaction, recruitment and  retention, and  the importance and impact of policies and  other interventions in addressing these issues.

Medical School Pilot Group Members

Medical schools are struggling to understand not only the changing nature of their workforce but also the changing and constrained funding sources available to support their faculty. The increasing need for quality care and the increased number of physicians required to administer that care also further complicate the schools' ability to educate doctors and meet service needs. Several schools have generously donated their time and effort to advance the understanding of the complexity of maintaining work/life balance for academic physicians. These schools, in no particular order, are: the University of California-Davis, Thomas Jefferson University Jefferson Medical College, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Indiana University school of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, University of Illinois College of Medicine, and University of Massachusetts Medical School.

2010 Invitational Conference for Medical Schools

As part of our efforts, we convened an invitational conference that brought together deans and associate deans from leading medical schools to discuss best practices in using faculty career flexibility to effectively recruit and retain top medical faculty. Co-hosted by ACE and the University of Illinois College of Medicine and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the conference took place on September 23–24, 2010 in Chicago, IL.

The conference covered such topics as:
  • Implementing flexible career policy options for faculty
  • Institutional cultural change strategies
  • Using career flexibility as a tool for recruiting and retaining faculty
  • Cost/benefit analysis of faculty career flexibility

Dr. Sharon Hostler (University of Virginia) was the opening speaker and discussed the current state of recruiting and retention in academic medicine. Other presenters included Dr. Deborah Powell (University of Minnesota), Dr. Molly Carnes (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Dr. Deane Waldman (University of New Mexico), Dr. Walter Schaffer (National Institutes of Health), Dr. Eleanor Shore (Harvard Medical School), and Dr. Robert Drago (Institute for Women's Policy Research).

2010 AAMC Annual Meeting

We presented at the AAMC Annual Meeting (Booth #707) and met with colleagues who were interested in further exploring these issues. Please contact us if you are interested in viewing the poster (PPT) that was presented at the Annual Conference.

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