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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How to sack someone in academia.

Academic medicine, like private practice medicine, is not immune from market forces that force change. Occasionally, those market forces dictate that a physician move on to another job. Unlike private practice, however, termination--firing--of academic appointments is not so straightforward, and often involves a team of lawyers and human resource personnel to ensure that the person is sacked legally, and without recourse. Here are some ways to get rid of your academic partner:
  • Termination: Easier said than done, and throw gender, ethnicity, and age into the mix, and it can become next to impossible. To do so requires either 1 egregious act on the part of the target, or a paper trail of poor performance examples. The paper trail can cut both ways, as the target can use it in their behalf as proof that they were, in fact, targeted. There are better ways.
  • The Squeeze: Cruel, but effective, especially with a younger employee who has other options at their disposal and can take the "hint" and act. The squeeze involves slowly and surely removing or altering privileges, such as OR block time, office hours, or physical office space. It may seem petty, but the message should be loud and clear. When your office is relocated to a trailer at the far end of a parking lot, it may be time to find a recruiter and bolt. Of course, since you were not actually fired, legal action is more challenging, though doable.
  • The Demotion: Similar to the squeeze, but usually involving pay and rank. When the head of the section of oncology is made vice-head upon arrival of the "superstar", that is a demotion. For some people with poor ego resources and even less financial resources, the demotion may not be enough of an incentive to leave, though remaining behind is, well, unpleasant to say the least.
  • The Promotion: This is the best way to get rid of an ineffective employee, and while it may seem like a joke, it is not. When the OR scheduling clerk at the VA, where I worked, went "nuts", he was promoted to "concierge." Usually the promotion is to a position with a nice title, an office, no staff, and no responsibility. In effect, you've been made inconsequential. From a legal perspective, these promotions are iron clad. How are you going to complain, you ingrate, you were promoted. Beautiful.

So the next time someone tells you that they were "promoted", you can raise your eyebrows, in knowing recognition of the truth.

Thanks for listening,

The IU.