Categories
Medical Education

13 People Years = 2 Dog Years = 1 Dean Year

The Ohio State University has new Dean of the College of Medicine, Dr. Craig Kent. We are very excited to have someone as esteemed to lead our college. But the occasion has caused me to look back on the medical school leaders at our university over my own career. I have had 8 deans or interim deans in the past 36 years since starting medical school. Each time there was a change, it seemed like it might be the end of the world as I knew it. But deans have a relatively short half-life as it turns out.

The median length of tenure of a medical school dean is 6 years nationwide. There an average of 12 new deans appointed each year in the U.S.  A key question to ask when a new dean starts is how will he or she define success during their tenure at your medical school. Some deans define success in terms of longevity: whoever lasts the longest wins. Other deans define success in terms of specific objectives that they have when taking the job.

Department chairs have a slightly shorter tenure. Their average time on the job was 5.7 years for a full chair and 1.3 years for an interim chair. At Ohio State, we’ve definitely been the exception: in the 32 years since I started residency, I’ve only had 2 chairmen (and one interim for a brief few months). The first, Dr. Ernie Mazzaferri, was on the job for 15 years and the second, Dr. Mike Grever, is now going on 17 years.

To put that in comparison, the average duration of office for the 44 U.S. president is 5.1 years.

One of the reasons that deans and department chairs hold their jobs for a relatively short time is that we hire them based on their past scholarly performance but then we fire them based on their business performance. Large numbers of grants and publications can make a search committee swoon but if it turns out that the new dean or chair can’t read a profit and loss statement or has no concept of strategic planning in a competitive clinical market, then he or she is not going to keep their job very long.

One of the perpetual challenges that we have in academic medicine is that when you distill what we do, we basically have 3 missions: research, teaching, and clinical care. For tenure, research is king – historically, a medical faculty member could not get promoted simply by being the best teacher or the best clinician – they had to write about teaching and write about clinical medicine. But regardless, given their 3-part mission, colleges of medicine that are doing well with 1 of those 3 missions always look to hire a new dean or chair who has the promise of elevating one of the other 2 missions. If your college of medicine is doing great as a teaching institution, you don’t hire your next leader to elevate your already thriving educational mission, you hire the leader who you think can elevate your lagging research or clinical mission. If the college of medicine is not careful, this can result in perpetually changing sense of institutional self-identity and priorities.

I’ve heard some chairs lament that their job is no longer fun because of a perceived shift from the job being one of promoting scholarship to being one of running a business. And it is true that colleges of medicine and departments of medicine rely more and more on clinicians and the clinical income that they generate in order to fund the colleges’ operations. But I think that as we have changed how we define success for a dean or department chair over the years that we have simply changed the job requirements for a dean or department chair.

October 4, 2016

Categories
Hospital Finances Medical Education

Financing American Colleges Of Medicine

IMG_0715Recently, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) released a report on how American colleges of medicine are funded and how this funding has changed over the past several decades.

As a hospital medical director, this has enormous implications for hospitals associated with medical schools and the report is pretty sobering. Let’s take a look at 2 years: 1980 (the year I started medical school) and 2015, thirty-five years later.

In 1980, the biggest source of income for colleges of medicine was state governments which accounted for 29% of the total funding. Support from federal research was next at 22%. Income from clinical practice (both from physicians and hospitals) was also 22%. Tuition accounted for 6%.1980 COM funding

Jump ahead to 2015 and there has been a huge shift in where the money comes from. Now state governments dropped to 6% of medical school funding. Federal research dropped to 14% of medical school funding. But clinical practice income now accounts for 60% of medical school funding. Of that 60%, 18% comes from hospital revenue and the other 42% comes from physician revenue. Tuition accounts for 4%.2015 COM funding

It is not that the state governments are paying less. Indeed, in 1980, the states contributed $1,639,000 to medical colleges whereas in 2015, the states’ contributions rose to $6,990,000. The problem is that the total cost of colleges of medicine has exploded, rising from $5,645,000 in 1980 to $112,978,000 in 2015. In order to support this exponential increase in costs, medical schools have had to depend more and more on clinical practice income, from both physicians and hospitals.

On the surface, this might seem that the colleges of medicine are like giant parasites feeding off of the toil of physicians and hospitals but the reality is more complex. In 1980, most academic physicians were in private practices, with a rather small portion of their income coming from colleges of medicine; the physician practice income went to the physicians and not to the colleges. By 2015, most academic physicians were no longer in private practice but rather were employed by either the teaching hospitals or by the college of medicine (and sometimes the hospital and the college are essentially the same thing). Therefore, with the changes in physician employment, the total cost of a college of medicine has had to go up since the college now has to pay physician salaries but the amount that the colleges receive from clinical practice income has also gone up since the college-employed physicians clinical practice income is now credited to the college instead of a private medical practice.

So what is the implication of all of this to the hospital medical director? First, if you are a medical director of an academic teaching hospital, you will have an increasing percentage of your physicians employed by the colleges and universities rather than being in separate private clinical practices. Second, with 15% of college of medicine revenues coming from the academic teaching hospitals, these teaching hospitals will have additional expenses not borne by non-teaching hospitals. Although academic teaching hospitals do have additional federal income that non-teaching hospitals do not have in the form of federal direct graduate medical education and indirect graduate medical education funding, these funding sources alone will not sustainably cover the hospitals’ contribution to colleges of medicine in the future.

So what can we do as hospital medical directors? We are and for the foreseeable future will be inextricably intertwined in a symbiotic relationship with our colleges of medicine and academic physicians. We will need to recognize that our hospitals will be obligated to help support activities that are not historically part of the hospital mission, such as pre-clinical medical education and medical research. We also need to be stewards of the hospital’s resources since the hospital administrative leaders will rely on our expertise to advise them on where money should appropriately be allocated. And as part of being stewards of those hospital resources, we will need to hold the colleges and the physicians accountable to ensure that hospital funding is being used wisely and for the purposes that it was intended.

I still firmly believe that being an academic physician is one of the highest career callings in healthcare. And being a medical director of an academic teaching hospital is for me the culmination of that career. As medical directors, we face the controversies, conflicts, and challenges posed by the dynamic relationships between the hospitals and the colleges but in the end, there is no better job on the planet.

July 27, 2016