An Academic Relative Value Unit System for Incentivizing the Academic Productivity of Surgery Faculty Members

Ann Surg. 2018 Sep;268(3):526-533. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000002921.


Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate a new academic relative-value unit (aRVU) scoring system linked to faculty compensation and analyze its association with overall departmental academic productivity.

Summary background data: Faculty are often not incentivized or financially compensated for educational and research activities crucial to the academic mission.

Methods: We launched an online, self-reporting aRVU system in 2015 to document and incentivize the academic productivity of our faculty. The system captured 65 specific weighted scores in 5 major categories of research, education, innovation, academic service, and peer review activities. The aRVU scores were rank-aggregated annually, and bonuses were distributed to faculty members in 3 tiers: top 10%, top third, and top half. We compared pre-aRVU (academic year 2015) to post-aRVU (academic year 2017) departmental achievement metrics.

Results: Since 2015, annual aRVU bonuses totaling $493,900 were awarded to 59 faculty members (58% of eligible department faculty). Implementing aRVUs was associated with significant increases in several key departmental academic achievement metrics: presentations (579 to 862; P = 0.02; 49% increase), publications (390 to 446; P = 0.02; 14%), total research funding ($4.6 M to $8.4 M; P < 0.001; 83%), NIH funding ($0.6 M to $3.4 M; P < 0.001; 467%), industry-sponsored clinical trials (8 to 23; P = 0.002; 188%), academic society committee positions (226 to 298; P < 0.001; 32%), and editorial leadership positions (50 to 74; P = 0.01; 48%).

Conclusions: Implementing an aRVU system was associated with increases in departmental academic productivity. Although other factors undoubtedly contributed to these increases, an aRVU program may represent an important mechanism for tracking and rewarding academic productivity in surgery departments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Efficiency*
  • Employee Performance Appraisal / methods*
  • Faculty, Medical / economics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Relative Value Scales*
  • Salaries and Fringe Benefits / economics*
  • Surgeons / economics*