First-time department chairs at U.S. medical schools: a 29-year perspective on recruitment and retention

Acad Med. 2009 Oct;84(10):1336-41. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181b6c290.


Purpose: Given the resources that medical schools expend to recruit and develop department chairs, the authors carried out the investigation reported here to address the scarcity of national information on the recruitment and retention of first-time chairs.

Method: The authors used data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Faculty Roster. The data included first-time chairs at all Liaison Committee on Medical Education accredited medical schools from July 1978 through June 2007 (a total of 125 schools). Primary outcome measures were the annual percentages of new chairs, retention rates of chairs, and retention curves of chairs.

Results: The annual frequencies of first-time chairs to recruit were remarkably similar between clinical and basic science departments, yet recruitment was more frequent for larger clinical departments. On average, 8.2% of all chair positions were filled each year by new chairs. Today's first-time chairs tend to be older, with there being a gradual emergence of more women. Retention curves revealed the median tenure to be 8.0 years for the most recent cohort of chairs (starting 1994 through 1998), which was down from 9.9 years for the earliest cohort analyzed (chairs starting 1979 through 1983). Chairs with longer tenures were more likely to be less than 50 years old, hold a professor rank, and be external candidates.

Conclusions: Retention of academic chairs in both clinical and basic science departments is cyclic but has declined in more recent years. The methodology presented here may serve as a template for calculating recruiting and retention rates of chairs in individual disciplines and at individual medical schools, to compare rates between schools.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Faculty, Medical / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personnel Selection / organization & administration*
  • Personnel Selection / statistics & numerical data
  • Personnel Turnover / statistics & numerical data*
  • Schools, Medical* / organization & administration
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • Workforce