Intended for healthcare professionals


Who cares about academic medicine?

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 30 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:751
  1. Jocalyn Clark, assistant editor and project manager, academic medicine campaign (jclark{at},
  2. Peter Tugwell, professor of medicine and leader of the campaign (elacasse{at}
  1. BMJ, London WC1H 9JR
  2. Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1N 6N5

    This theme issue provides some answers

    The reaction to the campaign launched by the BMJ and its partners several months ago1 2 suggests that academic medicine needs resuscitation.3 4 But is it worth saving?

    The academic medicine campaign aims to develop a vision and set of recommendations for reforming academic medicine in the 21st century. Driven by an international working party, it gives high priority to incorporating the perspectives of the chief customers of academic medicine—patients, policy makers, and practitioners—through a series of stakeholder and regional consultations. The campaign also supplies an opportunity to question the global relevance, responsibilities, and scope of academic medicine: Who is it for? Why does it matter? How best to invest in its future? Articles in this theme issue (including two from the working party (pp p 787, p 789)) discuss these questions and identify the challenges facing the campaign.5 6


    The first challenge is the impression of “been there, done that.” The message that not enough money and not enough talent are flowing into academic medicine is hardly new and is common to many countries. Throwing more money at such problems is unlikely to produce meaningful or sustained change, so simple calls for increased funding may fall on deaf ears. As Fox has argued, before resources will flow it is important to re-establish the “story” that persuades policy makers—and the public they represent—of the critical contribution of academic medicine.7

    That story is being woven by international tellers. One strength of the campaign is its international compass, seeking to highlight both the perceived problems and some best practices in successful reform around the world. In this issue Schmidt and Duncan discuss the case of Brazil, where a public health system has harnessed academic support to promote innovation and the translation of knowledge into effective health actions (p 753).8 Sewankambo, drawing on his experience in Uganda, links the contributions of academic medicine to strengthened health systems with the overall aim of improving population health (p 752).9 He argues that academic activities must have both local relevance and potential for North-South partnerships. Such partnerships between academic medical centres in developed and less developed countries will enable both to contribute to redressing global health problems and inequity.

    But the global reach of the campaign leads to the second challenge. Thinking globally demands a needs based approach—that is, focusing on the relationship between academic medicine and the public, especially patients—because health systems differ so greatly from place to place. As one of our supporters, Michael Drake from the University of California, has argued, an attractive byproduct of such an approach is that it will illustrate the great distance that lies between academic medicine and the actual health needs of much of the world's population. But how do we encourage this approach in the architects and governors of academic medicine for the 21st century?

    How to foster leaders

    Thirdly, much talk has been given to enticing the best and brightest to embark on careers in academic medicine. The Association of American Medical Colleges has asserted that academic medicine needs “deans and chairs who conceptualize their work as values-based and collaborative and who will build the consensus and garner the resources necessary for medical schools to become better learning organizations.” But Lamp and Seale's qualitative study within a medical school shows that competition rather than cooperation is the defining feature of medicine (p 770)10—hardly the training ground for globally conscious academics. And what of the leadership needed to forge better protection for the unique threats to the academic freedom of clinicians? Wright and Wedge discuss the competing and sometimes conflicting values held by academics with both university and hospital roles (p 795).11

    Fourthly, academic medicine must position itself as one aspect of the global health workforce crisis12 but recognise that there are broader issues than merely improving career paths. Reichenbach and Brown argue that an explicit focus on gender equity (fairness and justice) rather than gender equality (equal numbers of women and men) is needed to revitalise academic medicine, strengthen the health workforce, and improve public health (p 792).13

    The time is ripe to question the role and ability of academic medicine to respond to global health challenges. Undoubtedly academic support is needed to develop and identify the innovations that can be translated into health actions throughout the world. But inadequate incentives and insufficient leadership within academic medicine threaten the assumption of those global responsibilities. Does academic medicine care?


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