The evolving landscape of academic surgery demands leaders who are not only effective clinicians and researchers, but also administrators able to navigate complex hospital organizations, financial pressures in the era of quality measures, and inclusion of an increasingly diverse workforce. The aim of this study was to characterize achievements and assess perspectives in becoming a surgical chair in order to guide young surgeons in their career trajectories to surgical leadership.
A survey encompassing demographics, surgical training, nonmedical advanced degrees, academic advancement, and leadership experiences was sent via electronic mail to members of the American College of Surgeons Society of Surgical Chairs in December 2018.
Of 191 Society of Surgical Chairs members, 52 (27.2%) completed the survey, with 6 (11.5%) women, 40 (76.9%) white, and the majority becoming chair between ages 46 and 60 (n = 39, 75.0%). Training beyond residency included fellowships (n = 41, 78.8%) and advanced nonmedical degrees (n = 15, 28.8%). Median H-index was 47 (range 10–120) with 126 (5–500) research publications, and grants received was 2 (0–38) for federal and 5 (0–43) for industry. Female chairs appear to have fewer nonmedical degrees (n = 1) and no difference in age at becoming chair (66.7% vs 79.6% between ages 46 and 60), H-index (26 [10–41] vs 49 [17–120]), or publications (93 [10–189] vs 150 [5,500]). Prior educational (n = 36, 69.2%) and clinical (n = 44, 84.6%) leadership roles were common, with 30 chairs (57.7%) having held both roles. Experiences which respondents felt have most helped them function as chair included serving as a clinical division director (n = 37, 71.2%), residency program director (n = 28, 53.8%), leadership courses (n = 28, 53.8%), a research career (n = 22, 42.3%), and being a vice/interim chair (n = 15, 28.8%). Personal traits felt to be most important in becoming a successful chair included being effective at communication (n = 37, 71.2%), collaborative (n = 35, 67.3%), trustworthy (n = 30, 57.7%), and a problem-solver (n = 27, 51.9%).
Becoming a department surgical chair often involves not only surgical subspecialty expertise, but also nonmedical training and prior leadership roles, which help facilitate development of skills integral to navigating the collaborative and diverse nature of academic surgery in the current era.
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Published online: July 10, 2020
Accepted: May 15, 2020
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