Mutual Rewards: Engaging the Field and Creating a Path Toward Academic Journal Editorship : Academic Medicine

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Invited Commentaries

Mutual Rewards: Engaging the Field and Creating a Path Toward Academic Journal Editorship

Thompson, Paula Y. PhD, MA1; Bynum, William E. IV MD2; Schumacher, Daniel J. MD, PhD, MEd3; Park, Yoon Soo PhD4; Alexandraki, Irene MD, MPH5; Balmer, Dorene F. PhD6

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004241
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In medical education, there is a relative scarcity of opportunities to learn about—and attain access to—the pathway toward academic journal editorship, so we were excited to learn of Academic Medicine’s call for volunteer assistant editors in 2019. 1 Created under the guidance of the then-newly appointed editor-in-chief, Dr. Laura Roberts, the description for the 2-year term promised full integration into the editorial team of the journal, including experiential training in writing, reviewing, and editorial decision making, and participation in editorial board meetings. In delivering on this promise, the journal provided a unique opportunity to explore the pathway to editorship for early- to mid-career health professions scholars at a highly regarded journal.

In this commentary, we, the inaugural cohort of assistant editors, highlight the value and importance of this opportunity by describing who we are, what our challenges have been, how we have contributed during the first year of this program, and why our role matters. We hope this piece provides insights for others to consider and rationale for why pathways toward academic journal editorship should be replicated.

Who We Are

Our cohort was selected through an intentional process designed to identify individuals whose interests and expertise aligned with the journal’s mission and focus and who had a demonstrated desire to advance scholarship within the field of academic medicine. From the pool of talented applicants, the editors selected our cohort, representing diverse backgrounds, including our professional roles, career stage, race/ethnic backgrounds, geographical location, and nature of home institution. What we collectively share is a commitment to maintain academic rigor, to bring new and different voices into the journal, and to build bridges across multiple fields. The journal’s editors and staff have leveraged both our diversity and common resolve by welcoming us into Academic Medicine’s editorial team. We have felt encouraged to authentically express ourselves and our opinions and to infuse our intersecting personal and professional identities into the assistant editor role.

How We Have Struggled and Grown

There are challenges with any new role, and ours is no exception. We have experienced moments of uncertainty about our ability to be effective stewards of the journal’s scholarship and to live up to its high standards. Our role began in April 2020, at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing us to find creative ways to balance a “new normal” in our personal and work commitments alongside our professional growth and new experience of editorship. The past year has been an unusual period for educational scholarship, with an unprecedented rise in submissions (a 69% increase for Academic Medicine) prompted by the pandemic and social unrest. We recognized we were making important editorial decisions that had consequential effects on how our community’s personal experiences, education innovations, and social advances would be documented.

These challenges, while uncomfortable, are inevitable when learning something new. We have experienced significant personal and professional growth by engaging with and embracing these challenges as a team. We have each refined our time management skills, expanded and strengthened our critical appraisal abilities, developed confidence in our editorial decision making, and served as a resource for our fellow assistant editors. We have a greater appreciation for the rigor, imperfection, and challenges of the editorial review and decision-making processes and have begun to see scholarship as a collective engagement that expands beyond individual interests and expertise. Developing this broader perspective has highlighted underexplored topics and voids in the existing literature 2 and prompted us to reflect on how to use the journal’s platform to address them.

Being assistant editors has done more than expand our knowledge and sharpen our skills; the role has also impacted us personally. We have benefited from, and been inspired by, our relationships with each other and with the larger editorial team. This has helped replace our uncertainty and self-doubt with self-efficacy and belonging. We have found great joy in aiding authors to strengthen their work, sharing new skills and opportunities with our own students and mentees, and opening new doors for rich scholarly discussion. We feel privileged and fortunate to have experienced such meaningful growth and support, and many of us plan to maintain an editorial role as our careers unfold in the future.

What We Have Contributed and Accomplished

Our contributions to Academic Medicine and the medical education community are many. Over the last year, we have reviewed and guided many new Innovation Report manuscripts through the stages of the editorial process; partnered in the editorial review process for special features, such as Letters to the Editor and Teaching and Learning Moments; served as expert consultants with other journal editors for selected Research Reports, Literature Reviews, Articles, and Scholarly Perspectives; advised the topic selection for Trainee-Authored Letters to the Editor 3; hosted Academic Medicine Podcast episodes 4,5; written invited commentaries published in the journal 6,7; and curated a collection of articles to promote antiracism conversations. 8 These responsibilities and opportunities have allowed us to sharpen our editorial skills, explore and solidify areas of academic interest, and advocate for critical topics and reform in medical education.

Why Roles Like Ours Matter

The growth we have experienced can and should be replicated. More journals might create specific roles for novice editorial scholars so they can gain hands-on experience, express their ideas and critiques openly, and be given a seat—and an active voice—at the larger editorial table. As the next generation of journal editors, editorial board members, and journal oversight committee members, we have valuable perspectives to offer and, in many ways, we hold keys that might unlock important discussions or paradigms for advancing medical education. These doors will not be unlocked—nor will our perspectives be broadened—without a pipeline dedicated to our professional development and to facilitating our entry into the editorial community. This assistant editor position has achieved both.

For us, this role has been mutually rewarding. Our growth and satisfaction as assistant editors are not only the result of our own efforts but also the result of the trust, mentorship, and confidence we have received from the editorial team and staff that welcomed us. They have provided guidance, believed in our abilities, and acknowledged the passion and value we bring to the journal’s mission.

We recognize that other journals have employed different strategies to achieve the same end: building capacity within the health professions education community. In a multidisciplinary field such as academic medicine, it is critical to continue promoting new ideas, methodologies, and frameworks that attract new members and cultivate the personal and professional growth of existing members. We have poured ourselves into our role not only to learn the pathway to editorship but to push boundaries, agendas, and conversations that will define a future state of medical education that improves upon our current state. 9Academic Medicine has given us the forum, support, and guidance to serve our medical education community and to foster the development of its members.


1. Academic Medicine Staff Academic Medicine. call for volunteer assistant editors. AM Rounds. Published November 7, 2019 Accessed July 8, 2021
2. Paton M, Kuper A, Paradis E, Feilchenfeld Z, Whitehead CR. Tackling the void: The importance of addressing absences in the field of health professions education research. Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2021; 26:5–18
3. Academic Medicine Staff. Call for letters to the editors from trainees: Trainees as agents of change in academic medicine and the health professions. AM Rounds. Published March 29, 2021 Accessed July 7, 2021
4. Nkinsi N, Christophers B, Gallo T, Balmer DF. Addressing race and racism in medical education. Academic Medicine Podcast. Published September 14, 2020 Accessed July 7, 2021
5. Bynum W, Kemp M, Rivard S, Vu J, Gallo T. Resident well being during COVID-19 and beyond. Academic Medicine Podcast. Published February 8, 2021 Accessed July 7, 2021
6. Ross PT, Lypson ML, Byington CL, Sánchez JP, Wong BM, Kumagai AK. Learning from the past and working in the present to create an antiracist future for academic medicine. Acad Med. 2020; 95:1781–1786
7. Bynum WE IV, Sukhera J. Perfectionism, power, and process: What we must address to dismantle mental health stigma in medical education. Acad Med. 2021; 96:621–623
8. Blamer DF, Alexandraki I, eds. Addressing race and racism in medicine. Published September 1, 2020 Accessed July 7, 2021
9. Roberts LW. Our journal, Academic Medicine. Acad Med. 2020; 95:1–2
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