Academic Medicine: What It Is, Benefits, Top 10 Academic Institutions

Academic medicine is an area of medicine for doctors who wish to engage in scholarly activities. That is, they typically spend time doing clinical care, researching, and teaching in the field. Though the actual workload they do differs from one area to the next, with some focusing solely on academics and leaving clinical medicine, others teach in day-to-day practice.


What is Academic Medicine?

Academic medicine focuses on the education of physicians. Many times, an academic medical school or medical facility will provide care to patients, but they also have students on campus who are learning to become doctors in a real-world environment. Those who work in academic medicine provide care to patients in most situations, but they also teach doctors and other professionals who are just starting out in the industry. Many organizations have a school of medicine and a medical center, and those who work in this field could work in either or both centers.

By comparison, an academic medicine career path is a bit different than other organizations, including for-profit, private practice, and government healthcare. The difference is not so much in the type of care provided but the setting. Those who work in this field typically are not just medical providers but teachers. Unlike in any other setting where the provider works directly with patients to provide care, those who work as academic medical doctors focus most of their time teaching, leading, guiding, and overseeing those learning to become doctors.


Reasons to Go Into Academic Medicine

Those interested in working in academic medicine may wish to take a closer look at what is involved in this field, including the work environment. While there are a lot of challenges to learning and developing skills early on, many find that academic medicine is very rewarding. Consider some of the benefits of working in this particular area of medicine.

You Want to Support the Next Generation

Some people enter the field of academic medicine because they want to be a part of supporting the next generation of physicians. They may enjoy teaching and supporting others. In many situations, the research or work encourages them so much that they want to support the further development of skilled professionals, including researchers and physicians. This can be a rewarding career for many who have traits that include being positive influencers and motivators.

You Enjoy Academic Medicine Research

Some who work in academic medicine want to continue to research. While they may value working with patients and providing care to those who need it, they may see academic medicine as a way to apply their analytical skills and research abilities to better the health care industry in some way. That could be in areas as far reaching as patient care or meeting community needs, as well as working in areas related to medical advancements. Some individuals want to continue the work they were doing in medical school and decide to remain in the academic world to do so.

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Work Values in Academic Medicine

A core reason to consider academic medicine is because of the work values that are important to you. This is a very different world than working in a medical practice and a 9 to 5 job. It is also different than typical hospital settings because there is more education and support present. For those that enjoy variety and want to be continuously stimulated intellectually, working in academic medicine may be one way to achieve that.

In addition to this, these individuals may enjoy serving the community. This type of work is most certainly important to meeting the needs of patients as well as the community as a whole. It also encourages the building of fulfilling relationships. For those that enjoy working and supporting others, this can prove to be an increased opportunity for many reasons.

Providing Quality Care

For some academic physicians, it is critical to have a way to ensure that the community has access to high quality care. For those who enjoy working with others to teach and explain topics and perhaps refining skills and building better performing physicians, academic medicine can be very valuable. These professionals know that the work they are doing in educating their teams and molding these next generation providers is going to contribute heavily to the industry as a whole.


Compensation in Academic Medicine

An academic physician’s salary depends on multiple factors, including location and practice area. The national average is $209,401 per year according to Comparably.

According to some reports, academic medicine typically pays less than what could be expected in similar career areas. Overall, these professionals earn an average of 13 percent less than doctors working in non-academic roles. This differs across sectors as well. For example, those working as academic cardiologists make about 52 percent less than non-academic cardiologists. Additionally, academic gastroenterologists earn 41 percent on average less than those that are not associated with the academic medicine industry.

Consider other salaries associated with various other physician’s practice areas. For example, neurosurgeons earned a median salary of $628,701. Those working as a pediatrician earned an average salary of $184,570 in 2020. Physicians working as a pulmonologist earned $279,499 per year. Those working as a urologist earned $461,00 per year. Keep in mind that these values are not from the same salary provider and may be impacted by location and specific practice data.

Compensation in academic medicine also is related to the work of the provider. Whether they work in the intense environment of the emergency room or within a smaller hospital can play a role in the compensation that these professionals earn. The type of research or academic hospital the individual works at can also contribute to the amount employers pay them.

Top 10 Academic Medicine Institutions to Work For

Below are 10 academic institutions recognized for their work. Becker’s Hospital Review selected these organizations for their benefits and employee opportunities. That includes their ability to develop leaders within them.

#1: Duke University Health System

Located in Durham, NC, Duke University Health System has more than 22,000 employees. Forbes noted it as being one of America’s Best Large Employers in 2022. The organization focuses on areas of patient care, excellence, safety, diversity, teamwork, and integrity.

#2: MUSC Health

MUSC Health has one of the strongest proponents of diversity and inclusion. Forbes named the Charleston, SC location as one of the Best Employers for Diversity in 2019. The organization also places significant emphasis on student support and leadership development. It also works to ensure employees represent the community it operates in.

#3: Rush University System for Health

Rush University System for Health in Chicago places innovation and collaboration at the top of its priority list when it comes to creating a work environment that’s positive. That includes a focus on accountability, respect, and excellence. Employees receive discounts and enhancement programs that are fully reimbursed and provide up to two wellness days to take off for exhaustion or attend appointments.

#4: Sentara Healthcare

Located in Norfolk, VA, Sentara Healthcare works to enhance its employee training and advancement tracks on a consistent basis. They also focus on work-life benefits. The organization aims to offer not just higher salaries but also more awards and recognition programs while also providing employees with more training programs. It also encourages volunteer work within recognized organizations.

#5: The University of Kansas Health System

The University of Kansas Health System, based in Kansas City, has over 13,000 employees. It strives to offer competitive pay and benefits packages. Forbes named it to their list of the Best Large Employers in 2022. The organization has been noted for its positive-focused nursing programs and employment opportunities.

#6: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas has more than 18,000 employees. The Physician Assistant Education Association recognized the physician assistant program at the School of Health Professions  for its diversity in 2017. The organization offers numerous benefits, including an on-site daycare, family and medical leave, wellness programs, employee assistance programs, and numerous other benefits. Dallas Business Journal recognized it as one of the Best Places to Work.

#7: University of Maryland Medical System

The University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore employs over 29,000 people. This includes 4,600 affiliated physicians spread across over 150 locations and 12 hospitals. This academic medicine organization continues to be recognized for a positive work environment. Forbes named it on America’s Best Labor Employer list in 2022 for the second year in a row. The organization also invested $40 million to develop equity and diversity.

#8: University of Rochester Medical Center

Located in New York, the University of Rochester Medical Center has long been a leading academic medical center. Forbes named it as one of the Best Large Employers for 2022, as well as one of the Best Employers for Women in 2021. It is noted for its comprehensive programs and supportive environment for its 26,000 employees.

#9: University of Tennessee Medical Center

Located in Knoxville, the University of Tennessee Medical Center focuses on inclusion and diversity among its employees. It is known for the diverse education it offers employees to advance skills, including its physical affinity groups and cultural awareness programs. Forbes also noted it as one of the Best Midsize Employers in 2022.

#10: Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville employs over 24,000 people and Forbes named it to their list of Best Large Employers in 2022. It is noted specifically for its health and wellness programs, counseling programs for employees, and childcare centers on site.

Related: 10 Best States to Practice Medicine


Average Loan Debt for Academic Medicine Physicians and How to Lower That Debt

Medical school debt can be excessive in academic medicine, like many other physicians. On average, an academic medicine graduate will owe $200,000 to $250,000 in total education debt, including premedical debt.

Students may wish to work to reduce that debt with a concentrated effort from the start. That includes:

  • Seeking out financial aid from numerous sources, including scholarships. Scholarships may include need-based as well as performance-based opportunities. Those who may qualify for an academic scholarship, sports scholarship, or others can significantly reduce their education debt.
  • Select income driven repayment programs when available. This allows students to repay the debt based on their discretionary income. These programs may be more affordable than paying based on the amount owed.
  • Seek out loan forgiveness programs. These programs include the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, a federal student loan repayment plan, National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program, a student loan repayment program for health care professionals, and the Armed Forces Loan Repayment Programs.

Protect Your Academic Medicine Income

If you do decide to venture into the world of academics, it is important to take into account the value of the work you will be doing as well as the compensation received from the academic medicine organization. Physicians Thrive can help you evaluate your employment contract and determine if the compensation is a fair offer for your specialty, region and type of practice.

Equally important is to protect your income with disability insurance. Disability insurance is not just for older physicians or physicians already suffering from current medical conditions. A disability can occur at any point in life – one in four 20-year-olds today will become disabled before they retire. Therefore, it’s a fundamental need for younger physicians who stand to earn millions of future dollars throughout their careers.

Without disability insurance, you could find yourself in a position where you’re earning zero income or working in a role that pays far less than a job as an academic medicine physician would.

For more information on contract review, disability or life insurance, contact Physicians Thrive now.

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