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Why Start an Academy?

Searle, Nancy S. EdD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181baa9ba
Letters to the Editor

Director, Academy of Distinguished Educators; director, Faculty Development and Recognition; and associate professor, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas; (

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To the Editor:

Academies of medical educators are a hot topic in faculty recognition and development at the moment. Hardly a week goes by that I am not called and told, “Our school needs an academy.” The callers are frequently taken aback when I ask, “Why?” These are generally very well-meaning faculty interested in beginning an academy, but they frequently cannot answer this very basic question. My experience has shown me that if they can answer the following questions, they may then be able to answer “Why?”

  1. What will be the short-term and long-term goals of your academy? These goals should reflect the culture of your institution and the needs of your teaching faculty. Everything you do must build upon these goals if your program is to be successful.
  2. For whom is your academy being established: for the faculty, the institution, and/or the students? If it is being established to foster part of the institution's agenda, to satisfy a regulatory body, and/or to help students, faculty might not use their extremely limited time to participate. Members have to find value in academy membership.
  3. Who's in the academy? Is membership open to physicians, basic scientists, anyone who teaches in the medical school, or anyone who teaches in the medical center, such as dentists, nurses, allied health, public health personnel, and others? Is it open to residents and fellows? Determining whether your membership is inclusive or exclusive sets the tone for your academy.
  4. How will individuals become members of the academy? Will they self-nominate, be nominated, or are they immediately “in” by receiving a teaching award? Will they be selected using a norm-referenced process (applicants judged against each other, top x-number of applicants are in), or will they be selected using a criterion-referenced process (applicants are in if they meet a published standard)? Who will select the members? The application process is critical to the success of an academy: too difficult and no one will apply; too easy and there will be little interest in applying.
  5. What are the roles and responsibilities of academy membership? Once “in,” always “in”? Must a member engage in specific activities to remain a member of the academy? If so, what activities? How much does each activity “count”? These questions can be answered by referring to the goals of the academy.
  6. What benefits could be derived by faculty from academy membership? Examples of individual benefits could include recognition, faculty development, networking opportunities, mentoring for skill development and/or career advancement, funding, and protected time. The benefits that faculty derive from membership in the academy are drivers for academy membership.
  7. What benefits could be provided by the academy to the institution? For example, providing educational consultation service for the leadership and curriculum committee, increasing the recognition of educational scholarship, offering education grants to members and/or others, and establishing programs to support teaching faculty such as peer-review and faculty development workshops. Making the academy valuable to the institution is important because it makes the academy valuable to the institutional leadership.

Sound, thorough planning involving all stakeholders will help get buy-in from all and help ensure the success of this innovative opportunity to increase the visibility of teaching faculty.

Nancy S. Searle, EdD

Director, Academy of Distinguished Educators; director, Faculty Development and Recognition; and associate professor, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas; (

© 2009 Association of American Medical Colleges