The job of chair of a department of medicine, once seen as the apex in the career of an academic internist, has lost much of its allure, in part because of increasing administrative and financial obligations that require more of the time and effort of chairs than formerly. This is the impression the author gathered from interviewing 44 current and former chairs, deans, division chiefs, and hospital directors.
He was told that chairs have lost some of their independence as departments have become increasingly dependent on the support of the executives at their university hospitals who, as the source of funds and facilities, can even specify which clinical services the chairs may develop. Conflict over the assignment of resources between dean and hospital CEO, which one interviewee stated can produce “incredible tensions,” can complicate efforts of chairs to build clinical and research strength within their departments according to their own preferences. The growing administrative and financial duties of the job have forced some chairs to decrease their dedication to the classic responsibilities of teaching medical students and house officers.
Recruiting outstanding leaders for departments of medicine challenges search committees and deans more than in the past because many suitable candidates do not choose to be considered and prefer to lead institutes, centers, or specialty divisions. The author suggests, however, that schools—by providing chairs with adequate administrative support and authority—can structure the job to improve its attractiveness and allow chairs more time to engage in traditional academic pursuits.