Top Ten Tips for Getting Promoted


Sarina Schrager, MD, MS

I can still remember charging my old PalmPilot in order to page through week by week, trying to find the dates of all of my lectures. I was preparing for promotion and felt overwhelmed because I had not kept track of all my work each year. Now I had to collate years of academic projects and lectures, from memory! I knew I was not alone as many of my colleagues were lamenting about the same collection process. The Women in Family Medicine Collaborative has recently collected some tips for promotion which form the basis for this blog post. These tips are geared for people at medical schools, but many will also be applicable for community program faculty as career development. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the list.

I tell the junior faculty in my department that the members of the promotion committee are nice people, people just like you and me, and they want to help you get promoted. No promotions committee gets together and sets a goal of denying people promotion. They want you to succeed. That said, it is your responsibility to be productive, keep organized, and prepare all the materials necessary.

#10—Read the promotion guidelines for your institution. I am calling this number 10, but in reality it should be the first thing that you do after you get hired. Every institution is different. Every tract is different. You need to know exactly what is expected and required for you to get promoted. And re-read these every few years, as medical schools will periodically revise the promotion guidelines

#9—Get organized. After reading the promotion guidelines, get organized! You don’t want to be like me, paging through your calendar to see when you have given presentations and handed in projects. Many people have both paper and electronic files to keep all evaluations, feedback forms, innovative curricula, PowerPoint slides, etc. You may want files titled: clinical, research, teaching, QI, curriculum design, mentees, etc.

#8—Find mentors. Many departments or programs will assign you a mentor or mentors. This is very helpful as you navigate the local system and infrastructure. You may look for mentors in other departments or disciplines, or even look outside your institution for mentors who have similar interests. The STFM Collaboratives and conferences are wonderful places to find mentors as well. Many people have formal mentors (ie, those assigned to them by their department or program) as well as informal mentors (those people you talk to in the hall, or have coffee with a couple of times a year). The Collaborative on Women in Family Medicine has provided me with many mentors through meetings and the listserv—people with whom I have written, presented, and served on committees. Mentors can also be very helpful when you are deciding whether to say yes or no to requests for your time.

#7—Develop two or three areas of scholarship. As family doctors, we all have many interests. But, in order to develop a story about yourself for your promotion, having a few themes makes sense. When you are early in your career, it helps to focus on two or three areas of scholarship. That way, you are able to develop a portfolio of work on each of the areas and demonstrate that you are an expert. Once you are promoted, there is nothing to say that you can’t change your focus and develop two or three different areas.

#6—Make everything count twice. Promotions committees look at quality of work as well as quantity of work. Don’t let your work get lost. Using the same background research, you can transform your presentation into a publication. If you do grand rounds, consider turning it into a review article. If you are working on a QI project, get pre- and post-data for comparison. You may be able to present or write about it.

#5—Keep your CV updated. Some people update their CVs as soon as a paper gets accepted or they do a presentation. Other people have a scheduled time every month, or every 6 months to add new activities. You may want to keep more than one CV—one that is long and includes everything (including students mentored and community talks and activities), and another that is more streamlined. Another suggestion is to make sure to date each CV, so that you always know the most recent one. Some people keep a CV saved on a Google drive so that they can update it from any computer.

#4—Find collaborators who can help increase your productivity. Many of us work with residents and medical students. Take advantage of their requirements for scholarly activity. Also, working with colleagues on research or a clinical review will make the work go faster and be fun. Have an idea for a presentation? Send a message to the STFM Collaboratives looking for co-presenters. It is a great way to meet people who have similar interests (see #2).

#3—Promote yourself locally and nationally. You need to demonstrate that you have a reputation outside your institution. One way of doing that is to volunteer to participate on working groups, committees, or conferences. You can go to your local AAFP chapter or join a national advocacy group. Pretty soon, you will be given more responsibility in the organizations.

#2—Network and build relationships. No matter how introverted you are, networking is a part of our jobs and vitally important for promotion. Most institutions will require you to have at least one “arms length” letter of recommendation for promotion. This is a letter from someone outside of your institution who doesn’t have a vested interest in your promotion. It should not be your residency faculty, or someone you worked closely with at a previous job, but someone you may know peripherally from your time on a committee, or a work group.

#1—Do your job. Do a great job. Follow your passion and successful promotion will follow. Be diligent about scholarly productivity and it will be obvious to the committee that you are a committed, energetic, and valuable member of the faculty.

One response to “Top Ten Tips for Getting Promoted

  1. Thank you! This is a wonderful approach and such wise council for all of us in academic medicine.

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