Evaluating Research Productivity Among Academic Urologists

academic physician

For physicians who pursue scholarly activities as part of the path to academic medicine, research achievements are strongly encouraged. Historically, research productivity has been measured by the number of publications and the impact factor of the journal. However, these measures are limited in describing an individual’s research contribution; the number of publications doesn’t always reflect the quality and reach of the research. A new study from the department of urology in The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (SKCC) – Jefferson Health explores a newer measure called the Hirsch or H-index in the first comprehensive study of research productivity amongst all academic urologists in the U.S and Canada in 2019. 

The H-index is calculated by counting the number of publications for which an author has been cited by other authors at least that same number of times. For instance, an H-index of 17 means that the researcher has published at least 17 papers that have each been cited at least 17 times. The H-index removes statistical outliers; for instance if a researcher had one paper that was cited 1,000 times but had two other papers that were only cited two times each, their productivity might look a lot higher by simply counting the number of citations. A study in 2008 found a strong correlation between the h-index and academic standing of urologists in the top 20 academic urology programs. However, there has been no further research on this association.

The study, published in European Urology Focus on February 26th, assessed 2,214 academic urology faculty (2015 in the U.S, 199 in Canada). While the majority of the urologists included in the assessment held the title of assistant professor (38%), the remaining were primarily associate professors (22.4%) or full professors (25.8%).

“As expected, we found that once the rank of associate and then full professor were reached, urologists were likely to have higher H-indices compared to assistant professors and clinical instructors,” says Thenu Chandrasekar, MD, first author of the study and assistant professor. “Therefore, academic rank was strongly associated with a higher H-index.”

After physicians complete their residency programs, a select few choose additional training in the form of fellowships. Fellowship training is therefore an important predictor of performance and research productivity. Indeed, the study found that fellowship-trained urologists were three times more likely to have an H-index higher than the median compared to urologists with no fellowship training.

The study also found that female physicians were more likely to have H-index values that are less than the median, compared to male urologists. This finding is reflective of wider gender disparities in academic medicine. While in urology, as well as other fields of medicine, it’s been shown that at more senior levels, women’s research output equaled or exceeded men’s, fewer women hold senior or leadership positions. Therefore, the lower H-index for female physicians is likely indicative of implicit biases in academic urology and medicine as a whole, particularly in the earlier career stages. Greater measures need to be taken to help address these implicit biases.

The findings provide valuable insight into the landscape of academic urology and outlines further metrics by which trainees and physicians can measure their success and contributions. However, it is important to note that academic productivity is not a substitute metric of clinical acumen or surgical skill.

“We hope that these results provide benchmarks to trainees considering a career in academic urology,” says Leonard Gomella, MD, senior author of the study and chair of the department of urology. “These results will also help practicing academic physicians gauge their own research productivity in this competitive landscape.”

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

By Karuna Meda

Article Reference: Thenappan Chandrasekar, Timothy M. Han, Lydia Glick, Joon Yau Leong, Seth Teplitsky, Rodrigo Noorani, Hanan Goldberg, Zachary Klaassen, Christopher JD Wallis, James R. Mark, Edouard J. Trabulsi, Costas D. Lallas, Leonard G. Gomella, “Setting the Standards: Examining Research Productivity amongst Academic Urologists in the United States and Canada in 2019”, DOI:10.1016/j.euf.2020.02.003, European Urology Focus, 2020

Media Contacts: Edyta Zielinska, 215-955-7359, edyta.zielinska@jefferson.edu; Karuna Meda, 267-624-4792, karuna.meda@jefferson.edu