OBJECTIVE: To better understand and characterize clinical excellence in academia by exploring the perspectives of clinically excellent faculty in the top American departments of medicine. PARTICIPANTS AND METHODS: Between March 1 and May 31, 2007, 2 investigators conducted in-depth semistructured interviews with 24 clinically excellent Department of Medicine physicians at 8 academic institutions. Interview transcripts were independently analyzed by 2 investigators and compared for agreement. Content analysis identified several major themes that relate to clinical excellence in academia. RESULTS: Physicians hailed from a range of internal medicine specialties; 20 (83%) were associate professors or professors and 8 (33%) were women. The mean percentage of time physicians spent in clinical care was 48%. Eight domains emerged as the major features of clinical excellence in academia: reputation, communication and interpersonal skills, professionalism and humanism, diagnostic acumen, skillful negotiation of the health care system, knowledge, scholarly approach to clinical care, and passion for clinical medicine. CONCLUSION: Understanding the core elements that contribute to clinical excellence in academia represents a pivotal step to defining clinical excellence in this setting. It is hoped that such work will lead to initiatives aimed at measuring and rewarding clinical excellence in our academic medical centers such that the most outstanding clinicians feel valued and decide to stay in academia to serve as role models for medical trainees.
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