Academic medicine can be defined quite easily; it is the branch of medicine that involves research and similar activities of a scholarly nature instead of actual practice. And, having said that the definition is simple, a complication immediately arises, because the nature of academic medicine has, to a certain degree, changed. It was the case that those who may be described as “academic clinicians” spent all of their working hours on research and teaching. The nature of the job today is that they are likely also to spend time in managerial roles. Indeed, some academic clinicians become entirely consumed by the managerial demands of the position and bring to an end their clinical role. It follows that academic medicine is a very varied career, and one that allows change of direction at various points, and this is often seen as a reason for taking it up in the first place.
Nevertheless, a central factor must be the knowledge that the research an academic is involved in may be the key to solving one of the great medical diseases and, perhaps, ending centuries of suffering and/or early death.
Medical academics enjoy the same level of pay as their colleagues in clinical practice, in addition to which they have opportunities to travel.
In the past, many academic clinicians have found their way into the work by accident, and in recent years, attempts have been made to establish a more formal career entry and progression path. There is still an element of uncertainty, because research money is variable in its availability, and the lack of funding for a project can mean that there is no work. Each developed country has its own ways by which a career in academic medicine may be entered; in the UK, the past decade or so has seen a formalizing of both training and employment, making life a little less uncertain.