Assistant Professors: Don’t Get Sucked Into Clinics

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You have recently finished your residency and (hopefully) passed your boards.  You are in your first professional faculty position as a clinician!  Your FTE probably has 30-60% of your time on clinic duty, with the balance being teaching, research, and (non-clinical) service.  If you are on a tenure track, you probably have some publication and funding expectations.  How do you proceed to be successful for promotion to Associate Professor with Tenure?

After a clinical residency, guess what?  You have been trained to be a CLINICIAN.  Most residencies spend a lot of time on your clinical skills: technical/procedure/surgical skills, decision making, challenging cases, etc.  These are essential to being a clinical specialist.  However, they do bugger-all for you in the other domains of your new positions: teaching, research, and service.

When you don’t have much experience with or knowledge of these other domains, they can be scary.  And guess what we avoid doing?  Scary (or new) things.  New clinical faculty tend to focus on what they have been trained to do, what they are good at, and what they know: being on clinics.  While being on clinic duty is an absolutely essential part of your job, do not get sucked into them!  You have other things to do!

I have seen numerous assistant professor faculty who are always on the clinic floor, even when the schedule indicates that they should be “off” clinics.  They just gravitate to the hospital.  Maybe they don’t see appointments, but they are around to help, maybe scrub in for some procedures, maybe teach some rounds, maybe supervise the house officers on their cases.  It’s so much more comfortable to be on the clinic floor than in your office doing… what, exactly?

Since new clinical faculty do not have that much experience with the teaching, research, and service component of their FTE, it can be difficult to figure out how to use your off-clinic time productively.  This is particularly true for those coming from residencies with very little off-clinic time.  You may feel, when you aren’t helping patients, that you aren’t being useful.  What new faculty may fail to realize is: 1) the job requirements for a clinical faculty include many components besides patient care and 2) you will be evaluated on these non-clinical components when it comes to annual review and promotion and tenure decisions.

So my single most important piece of advice to new clinical faculty is: stay away from the clinic when you are off clinics.  You need to protect that off clinic time like a Chihuahua backed into a corner in the exam room.  You have OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES now besides clinics, so you need time to take care of them.  The easiest, most effective way is to just avoid clinics.  Leave it to your competent colleagues to handle.  The less you know about what’s going on, the better.

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