Will Term Limits Fix Academic Medicine’s Diversity Problem?

The National Institutes of Health has announced a plan to enforce 12-year term limits for tenured laboratory and branch chiefs; however, such a limit has yet to be enacted in academic medicine. Authors of an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine argue that lack of term limits on leadership positions at academic institutions has contributed to the underrepresentation of physicians who are female or who belong to racial or ethnic minority groups.

Women account for only 18% of US medical school deans, and underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities account for only 12%. This is surprising, given that the number of physicians who are women or are from racial and ethnic minority groups has been steadily increasing for a number of years, with women physicians constituting nearly 40% of the medical student body for the past quarter century. The authors suggest this stagnation in the demographic breakdown of leadership positions in academic medicine indicates a need for a major policy shift that will facilitate diversity throughout the pipeline of academic medicine. Without this change in policy, they argue, the demographic breakdown of leadership positions is unlikely to shift.

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