Teaching and research have long been held as two integral components of a successful academic career. Some believe that the two are synergistic - All the attributes of an effective teacher, including knowledge, patience, empathy, dedication, and communication skills, would make them good researchers. Likewise, a good researcher’s attributes, including innovativeness, critical thinking, perseverance, integrity, and organizational abilities, would augur well for them as teachers. When viewed in this dimension, teaching and research complement each other and, therefore, could naturally co-exist.
On the other hand, there is an alternative perspective in which teaching and research are considered almost antagonistic – To excel either in teaching or in research, one needs to invest considerable time and effort, develop specific skill sets, and prioritize one over the other based on individual inclinations and the academic milieu of the organization. Although good teachers may be popular among students, successful researchers tend to receive better career prospects and peer recognition. Furthermore, objective outcomes are considered very important in today’s world of rankings and accreditations. In this context, while student feedback and pass percentage could help assess teaching effectiveness, research outcomes in the form of publications, patents, and funded projects probably serve as more objective measurable parameters and, therefore, may be more valued and rewarded by the institutions. These factors create an environment where teaching and research could potentially conflict.
In Medicine, Dentistry, and allied health sciences, there is an all-important third dimension of patient care which should be the primary focus of all health care providers. Furthermore, every faculty member, at some point, is also assigned administrative responsibilities like stock maintenance, documentation process, resource management, mentorship duties, and grievance redressal. It is, therefore, natural that teaching, research, patient care, and administration vie with each other for time, skills, and recognition in a very complex and dynamic manner in the life of every faculty member.
The Teaching domain has been revolutionized by today’s online classes and MOOCs, thanks mainly to the peri-pandemic evolution of teaching-learning processes. Classroom teaching, bedside teaching, and demonstrations are no longer sufficient. A teacher’s worth is reflected in what he brings to the table over and above the information overload available to the students at the touch of a button in the comfort of the home. Competency-based education has radically transformed the teaching and evaluation process and made it more individual-specific and outcome-based. All these reforms pose a challenge to the teachers requiring them to constantly update, upgrade, adapt, and evolve continuously, making Teaching in Healthcare education a highly specialized domain of expertise.
Similarly, the evaluation of research outputs has undergone a metamorphosis from just including the doctorate, number, and quality of original research publications, impact factor, h index, and i10 index to encompass the number of patents/technology transfers as sponsored projects. The value of a researcher is quite often directly correlated to the financial aid or grants that he/she can secure for the organization. The successful planning and execution of Randomized clinical trials, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses require specialized knowledge, training, and experience. Research excellence requires unwavering focus, undivided attention, unflinching commitment, and untiring efforts. Research in health care, therefore, is also a specialization in itself.
Even if one reasonably assumes that some common ground can be found where teaching and research could possibly have a positive relationship, there are still issues of maintaining standards of healthcare delivery as well as managing and supervising all aspects of the functioning of the department/institution. Given this scenario, it is reasonable to question whether we expect too much of our faculty members. In the Era of specialization and super specialization, is it rational or logical to make our faculty wear multiple hats as teachers, researchers, clinicians, and administrators? And if we do, is it in the best interest of all the stakeholders? Could one person wearing too many hats be detrimental to the institution and the entire academia at large?
It may be time to have a distinct identity for any individual who is a career academic as a specialist in one of the 4 domains. Depending on their interests, experience, capabilities, and expectations, the faculty could identify primarily as teachers, researchers, clinicians, or administrators. Their workload and job profile can be designed to be consistent with their role in the organization. Of course, they could switch roles alternately over a pre-specified period - maybe a year or a semester. Alternatively, each faculty member could have days of the week that are exclusively devoted to one of the four abovementioned responsibilities. This could allow the faculty members to explore their strengths and prevent boredom and burnout.
These broad suggestions are intended to spark a healthy debate about the need to rethink our strategies for our faculty members to harness their potential, optimize their performance, improve job satisfaction and create a positive academic environment. Individuals make an institution. The ethos, morale, vision, and values of the individuals define those of the institution. We need to create and nurture an environment where every member of the faculty has the will to contribute in areas of their strengths and the drive to succeed, despite their limitations. The new education policy places much emphasis on providing academic flexibility and holistic development to students. It is time to ponder if the faculty deserved that flexibility too. In the long term, this will result in greater productivity and higher standards of education, research, and health care, which could translate into a win-win situation for all.