Who’s in the Inner Circle? Exploring Network Connections Among Health Professions Faculty for Career Advancement
Purpose: The purpose of this study is to explore the meaning of network connections in new or early career health professional faculty. Knowing this information can foster targeted faculty development strategies to build, leverage and maintain connections for advancement with scholarly activity. Faculty shortages currently exist amongst the medical and healthcare professions compounded by an aging U.S. population, increasing the demand for health care services. Each year, new faculty are hired, following carefully executed and costly searches. Much time, energy and finances are invested into "human" resources, not limited to, but including; salary, benefits and start up packages. All of this only matters if the new faculty member is retained and successfully achieves promotion and tenure. All faculty must retain an active scholarly agenda to successfully advance in the higher education paradigm. Each discipline may have unique challenges; however, all must achieve optimal performance in the three pillars: teaching, service and scholarship. When mentors and faculty members are knowledgeable about the existing and potential network connections, a more individualized approach is possible. Armed with professional network information combined with the goals and resources of the institution, career advancement may be achieved quicker or with less confusion. Methods/Description: Methods/Description: An explanatory sequential mixed methods study design was employed in this study. First information about the network was collected via a quantitative survey using social network analysis methods. Scholarly activity scores were calculated from the participants curriculum vitae. Next, interviews were completed to further explain the connections and scholarly activity noted during the quantitative phase. The data was collected in series, analyzed separately and presented in a joint display showing the overlap of the network connections, scholarly activity scores and resultant themes. This pilot study took place at urban university system in the United States. We studied the School of Health Sciences and Professional Programs 8 new faculty. In an early preemptive strategy to promote faculty development and retention, the Dean meets twice a semester with this interdisciplinary faculty cohort, at the Dean's New Faculty Luncheon Forum. All provided consent to participate. Identifiable data was handled by an independent researcher at another University. Participant names were replaced with a numerical code, while mentor/collaborator names were replaced by alpha coding. The lists linking names and codes are maintained by the independent researcher. Results/Outcomes: We measured network structure by size and interconnectedness among contacts. We measured composition by reviewing the similarity in characteristics to the faculty member (homophily) and diversity of characteristics (e.g. academic rank, gender) of all members (heterogeneity). Network visualization maps were created for each faculty member. During the interview, study participants described the connections including the level of understanding, degree of helpfulness about knowing more about their network and how this influences scholarly activity. This cohort will be continued and closely monitored throughout the pursuits of their promotion and tenure. Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: This study demonstrates the value increased self-reflection about one’s professional networks have on faculty development toward scholarly activity goals. Strategies for creating effective networks of collaborators should be implemented and utilized as one of the tools used by mentors in the development of new and early career faculty scholarly pursuits. Continuing this strategy each year with all new and early career health professional faculty as a cohort model will be further executed and monitored to continue to better define/refine strategies to positively influence faculty scholarship, career advancement and retention. The medical and health professions faculty shortages are real issues which will only get worse unless deliberate measures are taken to reduce faculty attrition, while enhancing faculty preparedness and scholarship to address the challenges that lie ahead (large numbers of senior faculty approaching retirement). The academic strength of an institution is tied to its faculty success. They represent diversity of expertise in research, education and scholarship. This presentation will introduce the exploration of professional networks as an innovative tool to assist faculty development and counter the faculty shortage issues that exist amongst the medical and health care professions. This one strategy along with a combination of other strategies, some of which were built into this cohort model (an interdisciplinary cohort group, opportunities for collaboration and mentoring, along with administrative support), will all help to increase faculty numbers to better educate students and provide high quality care to an ever growing, diverse aging population.