Would Sal Khan Survive in Academic Medicine?

November 5, 2012

This weekend, Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy delivered a keynote at the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) Annual Meeting.   The Twitter feed echoed the fantasy of flipping the ether dome.  Medicine via the Khan Academy method.

Then came the question, ‘If Sal Khan were medical faculty member would he get tenure?’  It raises the question about what we value in medical education.  Not what we talk about, but what we get behind.

I suspect the answer is no.  Revolutionizing the way the world learns won’t get you very far with an advancement committee.  But a polished list of irrelevant publications will assure your place as a leader.

The thousands of professional medical educators who witnessed Khan this weekend were blown away.  It was the right message at the right time.  Beyond reconsidering our tired, 20th century methods of industrialized one-way information delivery, maybe we should rethink what we value.  If Khan couldn’t succeed in academic medicine perhaps we should ask ourselves why.  Maybe we should rethink what we’re doing.

What do you think?  If Sal Khan were a medical academic, would he have tenure?


Bob West November 5, 2012 at 10:18 am

We all know the answer to that question, Bryan. You answered it correctly.
- Bob

Vinny Arora (@FutureDocs) November 5, 2012 at 10:49 am

Nicely done. Most academic universities dont award tenure unless you are doing NIH funded research. this is changing and at the University of Chicago, tenure has been awarded for sustained achievement in medical education (once!) but its a move towards acknowledging the multitudes of different forms of scholarship – including traditional discovery to the application/teaching scholarship demonstrated here. Dissemination is now starting to be counted differently even in NIH grants – they want you to demonstrate MORE than peer reviewed publication….so I suspect there will be changes in the future (i hope!).

DrV November 6, 2012 at 9:04 am

Thanks, Vinny. I think the tide is turning very slowly and it’s good to hear that an institution with the cred of Chicago has reformed P&T on its radar.

Tom Whalen November 5, 2012 at 10:57 am

I think the most salient fact is that he would not give a whit about the arcane and archaic tenure model and would not waste the time to age gate the portfolio to submit to the T&P Committee.

caasch November 8, 2012 at 8:36 am

Agree that tenure would be irrelevant to him. He’s concerned about making learning easier and more effective,not about professorial titles. The professorial classification that we have today derives from medieval European monasteries. Why do we think it would be relevant to medical education today?

Robert Centor November 5, 2012 at 1:16 pm

At my institution, University of Alabama at Birmingham, he could get tenure. Of course we would have to develop his teaching portfolio. But getting outside letters would be easy.

What he is doing does count at many good schools as “scholarly activity”. We do get faculty promoted and tenured without NIH funding. Schools that do not do that are ignorant of their own mission.

Tenure should have little meaning in medical schools. Salary does not depend on tenure, nor does prestige, nor does job security really. Sal Khan would succeed because he is making a difference.

And we should adopt his methods in teaching the basic sciences.

Howard Luks MD November 5, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Perhaps he would not be awarded tenure … but he certainly would win the hearts and minds of the students he taught. Eventually (5-10 yrs :-) ) the administration would take notice!

Barry Herrin November 14, 2012 at 10:31 am

Dr. Vartabedian, I read with interest your comments in HealthLeaders Media regarding the training of physicians on the appropriate uses of social media. We speak and write on that topic frequently and I’d like to help. Please help me get in touch with the right folks at the AAMC. Thanks.

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