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How Will You Fund This Dept, Ms. Chairwoman?

Academic departments will need to be more entrepreneurial to grow.

The other day I ran into one of my mentors outside of  the operating room. He's 93 years -old- wise and was worried about how the Department of Surgery would approach the recruitment of a new chairman.

My colleague. who was my first boss,  landed on the beaches of Normandy as a young Navy corpsman, rose to the rank of Rear Admiral, was an advisor to Presidents and the Pentagon and served as the Chairman of Surgery at 3 top-ranked academic programs. He's also climbed the tallest mountain on every continent and is beginning to write his next book. He is arguably one of the icons of academic surgery. So, when he talks, I listen.

He proposed that the search committee ask each candidate several important questions and, knowing about my interest in entrepreneurship, wondered what I thought. One question will be:

"Doctor Bigstuff, given dropping basic science research funding, dropping reimbursements, inefficiencies in the practice of academic medicine,  and the ineffectiveness of the current system gettting biomedical innovation to market, how will you fund the Department of Surgery over the next 5-10 years?"

Here's what I said.

Academic departments need leaders who are quadruple threats, not triple threats.

If any of you have served on a search committee, or interviewed for chairman jobs, you know what the job description looks like. "We are seeking a world class academic surgery leader who has won the Nobel Prize, generates a gazillion dollars in clinical revenue, has won every teaching prize known to man, and can leap tall buildings in a single bound." There is rarely any mention of entrepreneurship, ability to work with industry or networks to stakeholders outside of academia. Development and commercialization needs to be the fourth (or fifth) mission of academia along side of research, patient care, service and teaching and department heads should have the knowledge, skills, abilities and networks to get the job done.

Academic entrepreneurship begins with department heads creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem that will take many years to evolve

What do entrepreneurial departments look like? Here are 10 things to look for:

1) They have a top down driven vision and strategy

2) They have clearly defined entrepreneurship learning objectives for trainees and faculty that are diffused throughout the department

3) They have robust internal and external networks to all stakeholders

4) They have an  ecosystem that fosters a culture of innovation

5) The training program includes experiential learning and knowledge transfer opportunities

6) Recruitment, development , promotion and retention policies reward entrepreneurship

7) There are highly valued academic-industry open innovation collaborations

8) Barriers to participating in biomedical commercialization are eliminated

9) They cheer their champions and celebrate success though internal and external communications

10) They are led by someone with some industry experience

The new recruit should present a departmental entrepreneurship plan that defines timelines and milestones

Like any strategic plan, the candidate should take inventory of where the department is now, where they want to go , and how they want to get there. In answer to the question, it should define where non-clinical, non-basic research revenues will come from , how and how much.

Creating an entreprneurial university hinges on creating entrepreneurial departments led by entrepreneurial department heads leading entrepreneurial faculty and trainees. It's not liberating Europe from the beaches of France, but it is a tall but necessary order if stressed academic biomedical departments are to continue to  thrive.

Reader Comments (1)

Excellent post, Arlen. The academic community needs new blood at the top that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation instead of marginalizing these skills. I applaud your insight and leadership!

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