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Q:  Is there an advantage for a physician to choose a career in academic medicine vs. private practice?

A: (from Roberta J. Levine, Senior Healthcare Executive Search Consultant) Medicine offers different pathways for physicians to pursue their vocation. 

Clinical practice, research and academia are the common career paths for physicians. Why choose one over the other? One good reason is that a career in academic medicine combines clinical practice, research and teaching.

From our work with medical schools and academic medical centers, physicians tell us that they choose a career in academic medicine primarily because of their innate love of teaching and mentoring others. They want to contribute to their field and educate future physicians. In clinical practice, a physician treats and influences one patient at a time. In academic medicine, a physician can influence the next generation of physicians who will be treating patients.

During our interviews with candidates, many of them tell us that choosing a career in academic medicine was greatly influenced by the environment in which they were trained, and by the mentors, role models and faculty who influenced their decision to go into academic medicine, perhaps because they realized the individual’s innate ability to teach and not just do.

The motivating factor for a career in academic medicine is not financial — it is professional and for personal satisfaction. By working in academia, some physicians accept lower financial rewards than their colleagues in private practice. However, they often have more variety in their work life and do not have the same kind of business responsibilities that their colleagues in private practice have (i.e., paying bills or dealing with vendors). They also have the opportunity to work collaboratively with other specialists regularly. 

Physicians who choose an academic career also choose it because they find the academic environment intellectually stimulating and challenging. Another key motivator is the opportunity to make discoveries that ultimately will provide for better patient care in the future. Like in private practice, career advancement also is possible in academic medicine. For example, a clinician could aspire to be a chair and lead a department.

Whether a physician chooses a career in academic medicine or private practice, the choice is usually based on his/her passion. As everyone knows, following your passion always leads to a good career outcome!

Reach Roberta J. Levine, Senior Healthcare Executive Search Consultant, at +1 860 632 1320 or