Background: Changes in the organization and financing of health care threaten to alter the prevailing system of financing the teaching of medical students and residents. Little information is available from private medical schools and teaching hospitals about the extent of teaching by faculty members or the mechanisms and levels of reimbursement for teaching.
Methods: We surveyed faculty members in the Department of Medicine at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center to ascertain the extent of their teaching activities. A standard number of hours was assigned to each activity, and the total number of teaching hours was calculated for each faculty member. Teaching of fellows and in continuing medical education programs was excluded. We also determined how much money the Department of Medicine received in payment for faculty members' teaching activities, and the sources of this compensation.
Results: In the 1992-1993 academic year, the 188 full-time faculty members spent a total of 46,086 hours teaching (mean [+/- SD], 245 +/- 178 hours per faculty member); 10,780 hours (23.4 percent) were spent teaching medical students, and 35,306 hours (76.6 percent) teaching house staff. Eighty percent of faculty members taught for 137 or more hours each. In a multivariate analysis including faculty rank, subspecialty division, years since graduation from medical school, sex, and tenure or clinical track, senior faculty members (P = 0.02), members of certain subspecialty divisions (P < 0.001), and women (P = 0.05) contributed more than the average number of teaching hours. An additional 56 non-full-time faculty members contributed a total of 5684 hours. The net reimbursement to the department for teaching totaled $965,808, or about $16 per hour of teaching by full-time faculty members, after the cost of fringe benefits was excluded.
Conclusions: Faculty members of the department of medicine at a major medical center contribute a large number of hours teaching medical students and house staff. This effort is poorly compensated. Cost-containment efforts have the potential to jeopardize fragile social contracts at academic health centers whereby the faculty participates in teaching by contributing unreimbursed or underreimbursed time.