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HMS Faculty Do Not Want To Teach

In spite of boasting a full-time faculty of around 6,500 members, Harvard Medical School (HMS) is having trouble convincing enough professors to teach.

According to an article in last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, the school’s Task Force on Faculty Teaching Responsibility addressed a report to the school’s dean and top officials last spring identifying the recruitment of instructors as a major problem.

Neurobiology lecturer David L. Cardozo, who chaired the task force, said yesterday that increased clinical and research demands, coupled with poor incentives for teaching, are fueling the tight teacher market.

“Clinically, it’s lost income. For researchers, it’s time away from lab or a paper,” Cardozo said, adding that most faculty members don’t see teaching as a significant factor in career advancement.

Assistant Professor Diane R. Fingold feels the pressure acutely, as she struggles each year to line up clinicians for the second year course she teaches, “Patient Doctor II.”

“[Primary care physicians], often among the lowest paid of all medical specialities, are least able to make up income when taking time away from their clinical practices to teach,” she wrote in a report to a committee charged with reviewing the HMS curriculum.

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Reimbursement practices often create “‘double disincentives’ to teaching,” according to Fingold.

“In this environment, the clear and strong message faculty receive is that high productivity and not teaching is what is valued,” she said.

HMS instructor Richard N. Bail said that while he teaches for a variety of reasons, he recognizes the extent of the problem for his colleagues.

“It’s certainly not financially rewarding,” Bail said, pointing to his Clinical Epidemiology class: “I think I would have worked something like 60 professional hours and the compensation would be around $250.”

The Chronicle’s article argues that Harvard’s difficulties are emblematic of wider trends, as clinicians affiliated with teaching hospitals struggle to cover overhead costs and meet productivity quotas.

HMS Dean for Medical Education Malcolm Cox said a culture shift has also played a role in the diminished willingness to teach.

“A culture has developed where teaching has sunk to one of the lowest priorities on everyone’s list,” he said.

Harvard has begun to tackle the problem, Cox said.

One of the priorities in planning fundraising efforts, he said, is increasing compensation for teaching activities.

Cardozo and Fingold also point to the need for other institutional changes, particularly on the departmental level.

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