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Starting on the Right Foot: Faculty Onboarding With a Purpose

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Sol Roberts-Lieb, EdD
Director of Faculty Development
Carle Illinois College of Medicine

Robert G. Best, PhD, FACMG
Founding Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Professional Development
University of South Carolina School of Medicine - Greenville

Onboarding is often confused with orientation. Orientation is the transactional completion of paperwork needed to register as a new employee and complete documentation of required training.1 While it is important for faculty to understand the expectations of employment, institutional policies, workload, and facilities, successful onboarding also represents the welcoming of each new faculty member into the culture of the institution to help them understand their purpose beyond “just teaching” and to set up every faculty member to succeed. This brief overview will explore how to build institutional culture through onboarding and how to set up your faculty for success by helping them create a sense of identity in their new position.

How do you share the culture of an organization with new faculty members?

Share Your Mission and Vision

Begin by sharing the mission and vision statement of the institution, and provide specific examples from personal experience of how the college embodies its mission and vision through actions and activities.

  • Activity: Provide a list of these activities, and ask the new faculty to reflect on how the activities support the mission and core values. Encourage the new faculty member to participate in these activities or events as well as reflect upon how they might personally support the institution’s mission.

Share Your Common Commitments

Culture is a manifestation of your institutional norms for behaviors and attitudes. Many schools have key words or activities to help faculty understand the culture. Examples include: Have a jeans day on Fridays to show a relaxed atmosphere, or school color day to show the medical school is part of the larger university. One school introduces the four Cs — compassion, competence, creativity, and curiosity — and highlights how these core cultural values emerge through the application process and the ways faculty and students relate to one another. As an educational community, committing to excellence in teaching based on education theory and best practices while demonstrating outcomes benefits everyone involved.

  • Activity: Consider discussing activities that align with the new faculty member’s interests to encourage their involvement.

Share Your Resources

The people of an institution make the culture. It is important to meet not only the faculty of your department but also those within the medical school who can serve as resources for new faculty members’ transition and future. Making these introductions and providing a list of resources are essential to making new faculty feel welcome, comfortable, and confident in their new environment. In addition, share your school’s common PowerPoint, Word document, email signature, or syllabi templates during onboarding with new faculty. This reminds them of your shared community and the importance of visage and reduces some of their administrative burden.

  • Activity: Ask the faculty member to locate where these templates are stored. Perhaps give them 15-20 minutes during training to develop a creative expression of their commitment to the mission of the medical school using these resources, showing how they will support the mission, vision, and common traits.

Share Challenges

Every institution has its issues. By sharing some of your current challenges, you allow faculty to begin to understand their new environment, recognize issues that merit their attention, and perhaps start to innovate toward fresh solutions.

  • Activity: Consider initiating a discussion on one such issue. For instance, a faculty member who appears to be having trouble with learners as a result of burnout. Engaging the new faculty member in such a discussion allows them to better understand the issue, as well as to share how the college has approached this challenge in the past and what resources are in place to help in the future. Such a discussion may empower the new faculty member to recognize and act appropriately should they encounter burnout.

Make Culture Training Part of Onboarding

All of the items above — mission and vision, common commitments, resources, and challenges — can be shared in many ways. Ideally, this is accomplished face to face, though supportive information and resources can be shared by email or a webpage. Seeing culture in action in authentic ways, and participating directly, sets the stage for success.  

  • Activity: Create a process to share the cultural experience of the institution with your faculty. Understand that not all faculty have the same amount of time or can be physically present for this training.

How do you develop a sense of purpose or personal identity as a medical educator?

Faculty and staff come with a variety of backgrounds, including academia, solo clinical practice, large and small hospital settings, private sector, public sector, different cultures, different countries, and different expectations. They may or may not currently identify themselves as a medical educator. While sharing the culture of the organization these faculty members are joining is important, their identity formation as medical educators is also vital. Onboarding offers an opportunity to begin the process of identity formation.

Personal Wellness

Academic physicians generally have high stress jobs involving multiple responsibilities. Setting realistic expectations and identifying supportive resources, such as wellness programs, help new faculty develop the proper balance between their professional and personal lives. A supportive environment in this regard can pay rich dividends for faculty and their learners.  

  • Activity: Ask a faculty member to create a typical schedule for the week. Show them how to use defensive calendaring to create time for work and time for life outside of the office/clinic.2 It may be helpful to offer advice on how and when to say yes and no.

Understanding of Role

While most faculty will teach a class or lead a small group, framing their role relative to the big picture of the curriculum is important. Are they contributing new curriculum materials? Are they preparing students with base information for learning later in the curriculum? Perhaps a clinical skill they are teaching will form the foundation for a later course or procedure.

It is important for professional identity formation that faculty are encouraged to view themselves as a member of a team whose teaching, research, and service activities together serve to advance the mission of the institution.

  • Activity: Provide faculty with a curriculum map, and discuss where they will fit in it. This will help them integrate their contributions within the context of the whole curriculum.

Personal Background and Bias

As mentioned earlier, our faculty come with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. It is important to help them to recognize that everyone (faculty, staff, and students) harbors bias arising from our enculturation.3 Learning how biases arise and how they may affect us and others, usually subconsciously, is an important step toward recognizing their own biases when they emerge.

  • Activity: Either during orientation or soon after, have the group complete an implicit bias activity.

Mentorship

All faculty benefit from mentorship, and this is especially true for junior faculty.4,5 Approaches to mentoring can be formal or informal as well as simple or elaborate. Whatever approach your school takes to mentoring, begin a conversation with new faculty to highlight the value of having an effective mentor; provide the starting place.

  • Activity: Provide best practices associated with effective mentoring for both mentors and mentees. Advocate for participation in available mentoring programs. By having this information as part of onboarding, you are stressing the importance of a mentoring relationship and your organization’s commitment to faculty development.

Relevance to Group on Faculty Affairs Members

In many organizations, onboarding is a human resources effort focused on transactional elements of documentation and policy. Done well, though, it is an empowering activity with potential to establish a positive trajectory to success and satisfaction. Faculty developers and faculty affairs professionals can apply the ideas in this summary to create a robust and valuable onboarding experience.

References

  1. Maurer R. New employee onboarding guide. SHRM. www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/new-employee-onboarding-guide.aspx. Published Aug. 16, 2019. Accessed Feb. 12, 2021.
  2. Trapani G. Work smart: take back our calendar with defensive scheduling. Fast Company. Aug. 4, 2012. www.fastcompany.com/1658705/work-smart-take-back-your-calendar-defensive-scheduling.  
  3. Marcelin RJ, Siraj D, Victor R, Kotadia S, Maldonado Y. Impact of unconscious bias in healthcare: how to recognize and mitigate it. J Infect Dis. 2019 Aug 20;220(220 Suppl 2):S62-S73. doi:10.1093/infdis/jiz214.
  4. Foxcroft L, Jones D, Steele M, Lim, R. Implementation of a university faculty mentorship program. Can Med Educ J. 2018;9(4):e123-e126.
  5. Zachary LJ. The Mentor’s Guide – Facilitating Effective learning Relationships. 2nd ed. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc; 2012.

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