Practice Economics

How Academic Hospitalists Can Balance Teaching, Nonteaching Roles


As a group director at a growing, university-based hospitalist program, I often interview aspiring academic hospitalists. Inevitably, the conversation turns to a coveted aspect of the job. I’m not talking about the salary. Applicants want to know, “How much time will I spend on teaching services?”

Dr. White

Dr. White

Because hospitalists at academic institutions typically are passionate about their work as instructors and mentors, they highly value time with trainees. Unfortunately, the 2011 Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) work hour rules triggered an expansion in non-teaching services at many teaching hospitals, forcing groups either to divide teaching service among an increasing number of attending physicians or to allocate this commodity unevenly on grounds such as seniority. For many group leaders, striking the right balance between teaching and non-teaching service can be an important contributor to recruitment and retention. During these interviews, I’ve often wondered how our group compares to others around the country.

The 2014 State of Hospital Medicine report (SOHM) shines light on this topic.

Among the 422 groups that only care for adults, 52 self-reported as academic groups. The groups were then asked to describe how they distribute work duties. In these academic practices, about half (52.5%) of the group’s full-time equivalents (FTEs) were devoted to clinical work in which the attending supervises learners delivering care. The remaining FTEs were devoted to a mix of clinical work on non-teaching services, administration, and protected time for research.

Interestingly, the portion devoted to clinical teaching differs substantially between university-based and affiliated community teaching hospitals (36.2% vs. 79.1%), suggesting that hospitalists face tough competition for teaching time at the main campuses of academic systems but might have more opportunities to teach at the bedside in faculty jobs at affiliated hospitals.

The above FTE figures represent averages, which don’t tell the whole story. Groups might not distribute teaching time evenly; the approach to allocation ranges from a completely egalitarian approach to a system with two tiers that separate teaching and non-teaching hospitalists.

(click for larger image) Figure 1. Proportion of individual clinical activity spent on teaching servicesSource: State of Hospital Medicine report, 2014

(click for larger image)Figure 1. Proportion of individual clinical activity spent on teaching servicesSource: State of Hospital Medicine report, 2014

To address the ranges, the State of Hospital Medicine survey asked respondents to divide their faculty into five categories of individual job types, ranging from “No clinical activity with trainees” to “>75% of clinical activity with trainees” (see Figure 1). The results show a broad array of teaching responsibilities, with 20% of academic hospitalists spending no time teaching and another 21% spending almost all of their time teaching.

I suspect this distribution partially reflects the underlying interests of the individual hospitalists, but it is also a product of the available opportunities. A few factors might influence those opportunities, such as decisions by the hospital to hire hospitalists rather than nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to cover new services, or the presence of specialists and general internists who share teaching service slots with hospitalists.

One of the great things about SHM’s State of Hospital Medicine report is how it depicts the wide variety of careers available to hospitalists; the teaching environment is no exception. Although I strive to help my colleagues tailor positions to suit their interests, we never have quite enough resident service time to meet the demands of our enthusiastic teachers. Fortunately, this report allows me to discuss our job openings with candidates knowing how we stack up against academic programs around the country.

Dr. White is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington and hospitalist group director at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

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