Maxims for Academic Medicine

Highlights from Joseph V. Simone’s “Understanding Academic Medical Centers,” published way back in 1999 (hat tip @RichDuszak):

  • Institutions Don’t Love You Back.

A wise colleague once told me that job security was the ability to move to another job (because of professional independence).

  • Institutions Have Infinite Time Horizons to Attain Goals, But an Individual Has a Relatively Short Productive Period.

There is little incentive for an institution to rapidly cut through the bureaucratic morass. An institution will always outlast a dissenting individual, regardless of the merit of the case.

  • Members of Most Institutional Committees Consist of About 30% Who Will Work at It, Despite Other Pressures, and 20% Who Are Idiots, Status Seekers, or Troublemakers.


  • Institutional Incompetents and Troublemakers Are Often Transferred to Another Area, Where They Continue to Be Incompetent or Troublemakers.

They force others to pick up the slack or repair their mistakes, reducing everyone’s efficiency. If this continues for long, those who are consistently unproductive may become the majority because the competent learn that the institution sees no virtue in hard work and collaboration.

  • Leaders Are Often Chosen Primarily for Characteristics That Have Little or No Correlation with a Successful Tenure as Leader.

Examples of such criteria include a long bibliography, scientific eminence, institutional longevity, ready availability, a willingness to not rock the boat, or to accept inadequate resources. Choosing leaders is not a science, but it is surprising how often management skills, interpersonal skills, and experience are undervalued.

See: Academic Medicine & The Peter Principle.

  • In Recruiting, First-Class People Recruit First-Class People; Second-Class People Recruit Third-Class People.

Some hesitate to recruit a person who is smart enough and ambitious enough to compete with them. Others want a position filled at any cost because of “desperate” clinical need or other institutional pressures. If that approach continues for long, the third-class people will eventually dominate in numbers and influence and ultimately chase away any first-rate people that remain.

  • In Academic Institutions, Muck Flows Uphill.

Leaders often try to ignore or deflect the unpleasant mess, but the longer it incubates, the harder it will be to sanitize.

See: the dropped balls nationwide with current COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Personal Attitude and Team Compatibility Is Grossly Underrated in Faculty Recruiting.

A faculty member may be very productive personally but create an atmosphere that reduces the productivity of everyone else.

Annoying people are the black holes of camaraderie and joy.

One Comment

Charlotte 03.22.20 Reply

thanks for sharing this – helpful read!

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