Sharing the knowledge

The academic medicine life: Why it’s a calling for some DOs

You don’t do it for the money. You do it for the love of teaching and the lessons that extend well beyond the classroom.


Although most physicians complete their residencies and head off into the clinical world, a number of DOs choose to pursue an academic route, and for good reason, according to the DOs we spoke with. In addition to a more flexible schedule, there is an opportunity to diversify your skill set—by treating patients, teaching students, and conducting research—and to build strong mentoring relationships.

“Every day is different,” says Thomas Mohr, DO, MS, associate dean for graduate medical education at the University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine (UIWSOM) in San Antonio, Texas. “One day, I may teach medical students; the next day, I may teach residents. The following day, I might be at the hospital seeing patients.”

Fresh out of his residency in 1999, Dr. Mohr joined the full-time faculty at Michigan State University, then later worked for Rocky Vista University before landing his current position.

The avenue to academia

The road from residency to academia has its advantages, although it is not as common of a choice among new physicians, Dr. Mohr says. “Most people want to practice, and they want to work to pay off their loans. But going straight into academia still allowed me to see patients, and it also allowed me to have mentors who would prepare me for a career in academic medicine.”

More than that, Dr. Mohr says, the overall influence of teaching has long-term benefits over the clinical setting.

“When we see a patient, we impact that life on a one-to-one basis. In academic medicine, every time you impact a resident or student, you impact every patient they’re going to come into contact with over their career,” he says.

For those interested in academia early on, Dr. Mohr says it’s never too early to start cultivating your skills. “Take every opportunity to teach. In medical school, even as a third- or fourth-year, teach those who are junior to you. If you’re in residency, take a greater role in the teaching functions of the residency program. If you say, ‘I’d like to get involved,’ your residency instructor will embrace that, and that will get you noticed and hone your skills.”

Dr. Mohr has helped develop 25 residency programs across the country, including two new Laredo Medical Center (LMC) residency programs in Texas, a collaboration between UIW’s School of Osteopathic Medicine, Laredo Medical Center and Gateway Medical Center. The LMC residency programs are Laredo’s first.

The money factor

For Jennie Kwon, DO, MSCI, academic medicine has great benefits in terms of the scheduling for her family. Dr. Kwon, who is married to a physician, is an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dr. Kwon advises women to be prepared to negotiate. “Research indicates that women face significant hurdles when negotiating. Prior to negotiating, women should seek mentorship on effective strategies for negotiation.”

Being in academic medicine is a decision that physicians make because they love it, Dr. Mohr says. “It is not because they are going to be at the top of their pay scale.”

Dr. Kwon, who is board-certified in infectious diseases and internal medicine, says that those in academic medicine are aware of the expectation to be a “triple threat,” the idea that you need to be a good teacher, a good academician and a good researcher.

While all three aspects of academic medicine are important, Dr. Kwon recommends finding a focus. “There are different fields within academic medicine that you can excel at, including patient care, research and education. Seek to hone your skills in the areas that you are most gifted.”

Getting a gig

In addition to grant writing, look to get involved in specialty societies that relate to academic medicine, Dr. Mohr says. “I took steps to get involved in student council, state associations and specialty societies. This sort of involvement will broaden your horizon beyond the clinical care of the patient, and expand your opportunities within academic medicine.”

Dr. Kwon says that her clinical experience has been an advantage, and her osteopathic training, in particular, has been an asset to her academic medicine career. “With my DO training, I was well-trained in conducting physical exams, making diagnoses, and conducting OMT. The physical exam diagnostic skills have remained important throughout my career.”

For physicians who’ve practiced for some time and are interested in transitioning to academic medicine, being able to demonstrate an ongoing interest in teaching and leadership will help. “Some may think that academic medicine is where you go once you’re done in the clinical world, but that’s not the way to get a job in this field,” Dr. Mohr says. “Being involved at some level of teaching or academia, even if it’s not full time, helps you get into a faculty position.”

David Garza, DO, ran a successful family practice in Laredo, Texas, for 30 years, but he was always interested in academic medicine, according to Dr. Mohr. “Dr. Garza was an advocate for medical education for years in Laredo. He went and obtained his master’s degree in medical education leadership two years ago. Now, he is the program director for the new family medicine residency program at Laredo Medical Center,” says Dr. Mohr, who is also the designated institutional official for the Texas Institute for Graduate Medical Education and Research (TIGMER), which sponsors GME programs. LMC welcomed its first group of residents this year.

For further reading:

5 tips for teaching the next generation of osteopathic physicians

AOA-certified docs can now be program directors for ACGME residencies in all specialties

Academic medicine: This DO found her calling in the classroom

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