Camaraderie, flexibility among benefits of academic teaching posts

February 1, 2011

Even dermatologists who have left academia value the camaraderie, challenges and flexibility to be found there.

National report - Even dermatologists who have left academia value the camaraderie, challenges and flexibility to be found there.

David S. Rubenstein, M.D., Ph.D., Louis C. Skinner Jr. Distinguished Professor of Dermatology, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, N.C., says his 13 years in academic dermatology have shown him that "it's a very tight community. People are very interested in supporting career development and reaching out and helping people."

Dr. Rubenstein adds, "I like that I get to do lots of different things daily. I could not see doing anything else," although he says he is beyond the startup phase of securing ongoing funding.

Donald V. Belsito, M.D., says, "Teaching residents is always very challenging. And medical students ask questions you've never thought of. That's a very exciting aspect that draws me to academic dermatology - that intellectual stimulation."

He says he will move from private practice to academia on April 1 - to a post as Leonard C. Harber Professor of Clinical Dermatology at Columbia University - lured largely by the opportunity to build up the program's contact dermatitis clinic.

As a private practitioner, Dr. Belsito says, "It's very difficult to go out and give lectures or attend medical conferences. When you're away, you still have employees and rent to pay, which are not issues in academics."

Rachael A. Clark, M.D., PhD, adds, "Academics is the world's best job, particularly for a woman with kids." She is assistant professor of dermatology, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and associate dermatologist, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston.

She says she is able to attend her children's daytime events because she spends 90 percent of her time researching T-cell biology in skin and 10 percent of her time seeing patients.

"I can have an idea in the middle of the night and come in and work on it the next day," she says.

Dr. Clark says few residents and medical students consider academic careers because "they don't get enough exposure to people like me, who have fun lives. When they finish their training, they want to go out and earn money. They give up the long-term flexibility and happiness of an academic career for short-term benefit."

Senior academicians earn about 80 percent of what private practitioners do (Tierney E, Kimball AB. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006;55(2):213-219. Epub 2006 May 11), she says.

To spread the word about the advantages of academia, Dr. Clark says the Society for Investigative Dermatology's Residents Retreat for Future Academicians shows potential professors their options and helps "demystify" academia.