Does Promotion in Academic Environments Matter?

William N. Levine, MD, FAAOS | Linda Suleiman, MD

April 26, 2023

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The short answer is YES! Promotion leads to increased salary, prestige, and opportunity. Therefore, promotion in the academic arena is something that most faculty strive to achieve. Moving up the ranks from Assistant to Associate to Full Professor heralds the personal and professional sacrifices and achievements necessary to progress on this ladder. Most academic medical centers will recruit you at the level of Assistant Professor. During this time, you will immerse yourself in building a practice, establishing your reputation, and determining your research capabilities and desires (basic science, translational, clinical).

As you establish your clinical practice, reputation, and research during years 5-7, it is expected that you will be developing a dossier that will allow your chair to support your promotion to an Associate Professor position. Criteria evaluated include scholarly productivity – original research with you serving as first author is typically important; teaching – medical student, resident, and fellow education in the outpatient setting and the operating room; and leadership/committee involvement – department, hospital, national organizations. Community service, innovation, and local reputation can also augment your position.

Most academic medical centers/universities have a Committee on Appointments and Promotion (COAP) where your chair will present your application for promotion consideration. Typically, you will be ready for promotion to the Associate Professor level between 5-7 years from your start date (but varies considerably given the individual’s academic productivity). Letters of recommendation will be solicited on your behalf (typically you are not allowed to determine those who will be asked/anywhere from 10-15 letters may be required, the majority coming from outside your organization). Your portfolio will highlight your scholarly productivity, local/regional/national presentations, teaching achievements, community service (if applicable), and ongoing research. Faculty promoted to Associate Professor should have a strong regional and in some cases an emerging national reputation in the major area of focus. Faculty at this level should be acknowledged by peers inside and outside of your institution as experts in their area(s) of focus.

As you continue on your academic journey, it is expected that your scholarly productivity, national and international reputation, and prominence in national and international organizations will increase. Typically, promotion to full professor occurs around 10 years from your start date – again, this is extremely variable and depends on the individual’s progress.  rank of Professor at CUMC should be marked by substantially more external recognition through more substantial quality and quantity of scholarly contributions and impact. Promotion to Professor requires national recognition of contributions within the area of focus. Faculty at this rank should be widely acknowledged by peers inside and outside of your institution as exceptional within their area of focus.

Best advice for junior faculty is to develop a 5 and 10-year roadmap for academic success – set out your goals and objectives for your clinical, education, and research spheres and this will help serve as your roadmap which will coincide with the promotion pathway outlined above. Good luck in your journey!

DISCLOSURES: Dr. Levine is on the Columbia faculty. Dr. Levine serves as a paid consultant to Zimmer Biomet and receives royalties from Zimmer Biomet.

Dr. Suleiman serves on the Northwestern Faculty and as a Depuy consultant.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

Copyright© 2023 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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