Her pager beeped as she was in a lecture hall at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, waiting to teach a course in December 2010. Looking down, Helen Shields recognized the number as one she had been hoping to see, and anxiously stepped back into the hallway. The gastric bypass surgery case discussion would have to wait. Hands fumbling with excitement, Shields answered the page and discovered she had been named a full professor of medicine at HMS.
Shields, in fact, had become the first faculty member to be promoted within the newly defined classification of teaching and educational leadership. This classification was created in 2008 as part of revisions to the promotions process recommended by a task force report issued by HMS Dean Jeffrey Flier. Although promotion decisions had previously been based on two classifications, investigator and clinician teacher, the task force recommended that the criteria be broadened to reflect faculty members' varied areas of achievement. These now include excellence in academic achievement and contributions to teaching and education.
"For the past three years, Harvard Medical School has been looking very closely at the way we evaluate faculty for promotion at all levels," says Maureen Connelly, dean for faculty affairs at HMS. "Although our evaluation of our promotion mechanisms remains an ongoing assessment, we have made strides. And we are already seeing the fruits of that progress."
Shields's promotion stands as proof. "The process for my promotion was like an open door," she says, "an open forum for discussion. I felt valued and supported every step of the way."
Building on the task force's recommendations, the Office for Faculty Affairs has been instituting mechanisms to streamline faculty promotions. For example, parts of the process that had previously occurred at the hospital level are now consolidated at HMS. In addition, the Dean's Office, the academic departments, and the affiliates work more collaboratively to ensure a fair and efficient review. These revisions are expected to collapse the time it takes for a candidate to be promoted to professor to less than one year in the majority of cases.
The streamlining has been fully phased in, and all departments are now using the new system. The first candidates to go through the expedited process could receive word of their promotion status by the beginning of 2012.
In 2010, there were 96 promotions to full professor. "We've accelerated the pace of promotions without compromising the rigor of the review," Connelly says.
Shields, for one, is satisfied with the changes. "I felt an amazing sense of fulfillment and happiness."