Pursuing a Leadership Role in Academic Medicine: How to Craft a Vision Statement

By Kerry Quealy and Joyce De Leo, PhD

When you become a finalist for a senior leadership position in academic medicine, you are often asked to provide a written vision statement that will reflect what you see as a successful future for the entity (department, school, institute, etc.) and its committed members that you aspire to lead. Ultimately, this may also be the guide to your negotiations and resource requests to accomplish your goals.

Vision statement is actually a misnomer since this document is much more than a statement. It is a road map that is used to assess your leadership acumen and how you will align your skills to meet the short- and long-term goals of the institution and specific program or area that you may lead.

What to Include

The way to structure this document will depend on the audience that will review it. It may be a narrative document viewed only by the hiring authority or a more formal slide deck presented to internal and external constituents. Confer with your search consultant or the hiring authority about the desired length and format, and if there is flexibility go with the type of document that you feel best illustrates your ideas and vision. A detailed narrative document would be about 6-8 pages in length.

Whatever the format, you will want to acknowledge that your vision will continue to develop and evolve over time and that this is an iterative, consultative process. The trick is to be confident enough to express a thoughtful, ambitious vision while humble enough to know that you can only know so much at this point about the role and the leadership challenges you may face. If you happen to be an internal candidate relatively familiar with the institution and its workings, maintain your humility and take the stance that you have much to learn about the role you are vying for. 

The document will be driven by the data and information provided to you (the leadership profile from the search firm is applicable, as are a current strategic plan, an annual report, conversations with constituents) and should be an aspirational view of the future. It will need to show that you’ve done your homework and have taken a rigorous approach to preparing your vision.

We recommend the following steps in crafting the vision statement:

Provide a summary or background of the current state

  • Describe the history and foundation that have developed the institution’s and entity’s core values and mission.
  • Provide context and share the trends seen nationally affecting the discipline and the role they play in the broader academic medicine landscape. 
  • Include a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis of the entity you intend to lead.
  • State the guiding principles that will position the area for further elevation and excellence.

Articulate the goals to achieve better performance outcomes as they relate to the clinical, research, service and teaching missions. Other areas to address may include DEI, community engagement and advocacy. What do you want to accomplish and why?

  • State the measurable metrics you will achieve.
  • Describe the programs that will be developed or grown.
  • Articulate research initiatives and grants that will be pursued and supported.
  • Describe education innovations and faculty development opportunities.

Map out the implementation and your blueprint to incorporate your goals.

  • State how you will engage the faculty, staff and other constituents.
  • Provide timelines (short, mid and long term).

Additional Considerations

Work to balance the opportunity to be innovative and visionary with being realistic about the resources that are available and the external forces at play. Provide your views on resource growth tapping into diverse strategies to improve revenue beyond traditional mechanisms. 

  • How many faculty/staff slots are available to recruit in the short and long-term?
  • How will you recruit, retain, mentor and support faculty, staff, students and trainees?
  • How will you build your team to position your leadership for success? Have you identified new positions or gaps needed to fill to achieve the stated goals? 
  • What are the start-up funds for research-intensive faculty? Is there adequate infrastructure and research support to augment the research portfolio?
  • What are the space considerations and availability?

Engage a trusted mentor or someone serving in a similar position to review and provide feedback before submitting the statement. Items to review may include:

  • Are your stated goals realistic given the environment and resources?
  • Have you fleshed out your ideas enough and is there any missing critical information?
  • Is it inspirational?

Understand that start-up packages are usually allocated over a 3-5 year period. Consider structuring your vision statement in these time frames. 

The vision statement should be focused on future success and demonstrate your understanding of the opportunity and the institution. This statement should also highlight how your leadership will elevate the program/department/area, enhance the reputation and further all missions. As is clear from the above suggestions, writing a vision statement is a major undertaking that requires serious reflection on what you envision for the future and research on what is realistic to ensure success for you in the role. This should be an energizing part of the search process that brings innovative ideas and ignites further discussions by key constituents. A well-thought out document will go a long way toward your selection for the leadership role – and will provide a template for your early tenure.