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Faculty Turnover Costs in Academic Medicine and Science

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By R. Kevin Grigsby, D.S.W., Senior Director, Member Organizational Development, Association of American Medical Colleges

Faculty turnover refers to the rate at which faculty members leave employment at our organizations. Turnover, a fact of life in academic medicine and science, has both human and financial consequences. Significant investments of time, effort, and money are required every time a faculty member departs.

Cost of faculty member departure

Clinical revenue, the money clinicians generate seeing patients, stops. Indirect costs generated through grants may no longer be available even though costs continue. Likewise, the work of the organization does not stop, nor do the associated expenses. Support personnel salaries, building utility and maintenance costs, and other “costs of doing business” continue. The loss of the departing faculty member’s “organizational knowledge” may contribute to reduced productivity for remaining faculty and staff or damage to the organization’s reputation, especially if the departing faculty member has a strong profile as a scholar.

Costs of recruiting a replacement

Convening a search committee, advertising the position, bringing candidates to the organization for interviews, and retaining search firms incur significant costs. Some organizations have created internal search firms as a strategy for controlling recruiting costs. A quick Web search reveals there is an entire industry dedicated to recruiting faculty in academic medicine and science. The AAMC publication, Finding Top Talent, offers detailed information about recruitment costs.

Costs related to “onboarding” the replacement

Relocation costs, laboratory start-up costs, hiring costs (credentialing, etc.), support staff recruitment, space renovation, and candidate pre-employment campus visits prior to the start date will incur significant costs. Some organizations control costs by predetermining or “capping” laboratory start-up budgets. Start-up costs for established researchers typically exceed $1 million, even if some costs are offset by indirect cost dollars from National Institutes of Health grant awards that will be transferred. For example:

A department chair wants to raise the department’s national profile by recruiting a well-known senior scientist with several R01 awards involving primates (baboons). But your organization does not have a primate colony. Several million dollars will be required to create the necessary facility, meet the animal care and use requirements, and transport the colony to the new location. Local animal rights activists are unlikely to be supportive, to say the least. Excitement fades as the “true costs” of recruiting are revealed.

Managing costs of faculty turnover in the academic health enterprise makes sense. Is your organization considering the “true cost” of faculty turnover?

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