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Top 10 "Words of Wisdom" for Junior Faculty

By Kathryn Conniff, MD, and Richard Colgan, MD, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Maryland

1. Develop a niche. Do you enjoy procedures? Women's health? Adolescents? Medical student advising? Market your interests on your online faculty profile, to your patients, and by becoming involved in relevant student interest groups. If you build it, they will come. Word of mouth spreads fast.

2. Recognize the power of collaboration. Two (or three or four) heads are better than one. Have an idea for a research project but don't have the time? Ask a trusted medical student and/or resident if they are interested in collaborating. They may be able to dedicate a month-long research elective to the task. They will benefit from your mentorship and supervision, while you will benefit from having a collaborator with more time to dedicate to the project. If a publication results, you both win.

3. Learn how to say no. As a new faculty member, you will be offered leadership roles, committee membership, research ventures, etc. Don't feel pressured to take on something just because it was offered to you. Think long and hard about whether a potential opportunity is something you are truly interested in. Take on too many things early— before you realize your passion—and you risk spreading yourself too thin, or worse, incapable of accepting an opportunity that you are truly excited about when it arises.

4. Develop a teaching portfolio. Start on Day 1. Keep track of teaching responsibilities (both undergraduate and graduate), advising roles, speaking engagements, curriculum development, committee membership, etc. Update it monthly. A solid teaching portfolio is the basis of successful academic promotion. See box for a sample template.

5. Play nice in the sandbox. Some degree of service to your department, medical school, local medical society, and national organizations is expected. Not only does it demonstrate that you are a good team player, but it also allows you to network with people outside your specialty and at other institutions. Venturing outside the confines of your office may just open career doors you never knew existed.

6. Become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Being a new faculty member comes with a lot of new challenges—greater patient volume, juggling multiple roles (teacher, doctor, supervisor, researcher), administrative overload—that can frazzle even the most collected person. Instead of becoming overwhelmed, try to "go with the flow." Take a deep breath, and take it one step at a time. Blow off all of your pent-up steam at the end of the day by meditating, jogging, reading, spending time with family, or doing whatever you find relaxing.

7. You are not alone. Even if you're in solo practice or in a rural community, a consult is only a phone call, internet connection, e-mail, or text message away. The beauty of family medicine is that most conundrums you face are not emergencies. Take an unusual rash, for example. As long as your patient is not ill, you have the luxury of consulting a dermatology textbook, or texting a photo to a dermatologist colleague you met at the new faculty luncheon or friend from medical school. I have never once lost a patient's trust by admitting to him or her that I'm not sure of the diagnosis. I promise them I will do my research, and I make sure I get a working phone number so that I can get in touch with the patient when I find an answer.

8. Admit to your mistakes. To expand upon #7, I have never once lost a patient's trust when I admitted that I made a mistake. After all, it has been noted that patients who file malpractice suits against doctors do so because of lack of honesty, dissatisfaction with ability to establish rapport, and poor communication.1,2

9. Play to your strengths. To thrive in academia, you should have a strong interest in caring for patients and at least one of the following: teaching, research, publishing, or administration. If none of the latter categories interests you, then perhaps you would be better suited to full-time practice. Otherwise, you are in the right place. Now, it's up to you to make the best of it.

10. Predict the future. Abraham Lincoln said "The best way to predict the future is to create it." Create yours. Decide where you want to be in 5 or 10 years. Academic promotion is not a given; rather, you have to earn it. Start early. Plan to write at least one article per year. Dr Robert Taylor's books3,4 are excellent resources for those looking to get published and excel in academia.

1. Vincent C, Young M, Phillips A. Why do people sue doctors? A study of patients and relatives taking legal action. Lancet 1994;343(8913):1609-13.

2. Hickson GB, Federspiel CF, Pichert JW, Miller CS, Guald-Jaeger J, Bost P. Patient complaints and malpractice risk. JAMA 2002;287(22):2951-7.

3. Taylor RB. Academic medicine: a guide for clinicians, first edition. New York: Springer, 2006.

4. Taylor RB. Medical writing: a guide for clinicians, educators, and researchers, second edition. New York: Springer, 2011.

Teaching Portfolio Template
Teaching Philosophy: write a paragraph reflecting on a simple question: "Why do you teach?'

I. Teaching activities

  a. School of Medicine courses

  b. Presentations/Lectures

    i. Medical students

    ii. Residents

    iii.Local/state/national conferences

  c. Clinical teaching and supervision

    i. Medical students

        1. Preclinical years (shadowing)

        2. Clinical (clerkship)

    ii. Residents

        1. Inpatient (hospital attending)

        2. Outpatient (clinic attending)

   d.Teaching through scholarly activities

     i. Peer reviewer for (insert #) of journals

     ii. Editorial board member for (insert #) of journals

   e. Teaching evaluation summaries

     i. Medical students

        1. Preceptor evaluations (individual score and faculty average)

        2. Lecture evaluations (individual score and faculty average)

     ii. Residents

        1. Preceptor evaluations (individual score and faculty average)

        2. Lecture evaluations (individual score and faculty average)

   f. Teaching awards and honors

II. Advising and mentoring

   a. Medical students: list names, capacity of mentorship, and contact information

   b. Residents: list names, capacity of mentorship, and contact information

   c. Junior faculty: list names, capacity of mentorship, and contact information

   d. Additional mentorship: eg, faculty advisor for student interest groups

III. Educational leadership and scholarship

   a. Curriculum development

   b. Leadership roles: eg, director of Medical Student Education, course master for (fill in course)

   c. Educational committees

   d. List if individuals who have directly observed your leadership: include contact information


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