Percentages of Faculty Salary Support at Academic Medical Centers

Jun 17 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

There has been much discussion of the percentages of faculty salaries coming from internal versus external sources. In the context of helping prepare a recent paper from leaders of academic medical centers, I was able to obtain some data from the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) regarding the distribution of levels of extramural support across 72 academic medical centers for 2013. These data are shown below:

STL Figure


These data were collected under terms of strict anonymity for institutions. Furthermore, as noted in the caption, they were collected by obtaining the total amount of extramural support going to faculty salaries and dividing by the total amount going to salaries for individuals with at least some extramural support. Thus, distributions of levels of support across a given institution are not available. Nonetheless, these distributions provide some sense of the range of individual institutional behavior that is more informative than an overall median with no other information.

26 responses so far

  • DJMH says:

    Whoa, that's neat. So you're saying that for non-MDs, on average about half their salaries are supported from grants. It would be so interesting to know the relationship between actual salary support and stated salary support...e.g. at an institution with stated expectation of 35% salary support, do they in fact end up providing more like 40-50% salary support overall because of bridge funding, start-up packages, etc? And so are the places out at 70% sponsored on your graph actually places with nominal 5% salary support? Very interesting graphic.

  • newbie PI says:

    These numbers seem high to me. I look around at my department at an R1 med school and very few are covering 50% of their salary right now. But then again, this analysis completely ignores all of those PIs who have funding gaps. I think that's what is misleading about this. Some deanlet at my University is gonna get ahold of this and interpret it to mean that most researchers at other med schools are covering 50% or more of their salaries, when the actual average is much lower.

    • datahound says:

      This reveals a shortcoming of these data. Since these data are not available on an individual level, it is hard to know how many investigators are providing support at what level. Well-funded PIs at 90% salary recovery can affect the overall result at a given institution. Moreover, the median overall for non-physicians is 47% so that fewer than half of all non-physicians are covering more than half of their salaries.

  • Dave says:

    The fact that this whole thing protects the identity of the participating institutions makes me very suspicious of these numbers. They are hiding something. There is no way that med schools, on average, are covering 50% salary. Even if we believe these data, we don't know anything about the source of the institutional funding, nor do we know anything about which faculty are included (rank etc). Are start-up funds included? I bet they are, and that alone could skew the numbers drastically in their favor.

    Not a fan of the secrecy AT ALL. What are they afraid of?

    • datahound says:

      I hope you know how I feel about transparency, but I do not think there are shenanigans beyond that. The methodology is fairy straightforward. Business officials at institutions were asked to supply how much sponsored research money the institution spent on salaries and how much total salary support the institution spent on these PIs. This would presumably include PI salaries if they were part of start-up funds (but this is a small percentage of PIs).

      AAMC has not authority to force their member institutions to contribute data. They request data with terms that are most likely to yield the desired data. I do not understand exactly what they are afraid of.

  • To what extent is the higher non-MD percentage due to lower salaries for the non-MD researchers? I'm guessing not too much, but it would be good to know this (I think?). Junior research PhD professors aren't always that expensive relative to mid-career MDs in terms of total salaries.

    • datahound says:

      I don't know, but I can see what other data I can get my hands on.

    • David Taylor, MD says:


      I saw your link to this chart on your blog site, so I am a little late responding. I am on a medical school faculty, and wonder how "salary" for MDs is calculated in the chart. My 'official' medical school salary is very low -- the assumption is that we will make most of our income through our practice and practice plan arrangements -- and if I was expected to generate 50% of my miniscule official salary I could do so easily. On the other hand, the chart makes more sense if it uses total income for MDs -- as a cardiologist I'm fairly well paid, and even 10% of my annual income is, in absolute terms, at least 50% of what some of my PhD colleagues earn. No bragging, just saying. It's an important point, I think, simply because a huge percentage of my income is from patient care, and my dean (who gets a portion as the "dean's tax") is forgiving of clinicians when we don't generate as large a percentage of our incomes as our basic science colleagues -- even a "full time" clinical faculty member is devoting only a portion of his/her professional time to research, service, and teaching, unlike basic science faculty, who devote 100% of their professional time to research, service, and teaching. (The exception used to be the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago which at least used to tout itself as having the only "full-time" clinical faculty in the U.S.)

  • DJMH says:

    There is no way that med schools, on average, are covering 50% salary.

    You think? In a recent tour of (R1-affiliated) medical schools, it seemed fairly standard for the stated coverage to be 35%. Throw in a few junior faculty being covered 100%, several faculty who have successfully petitioned not to have to cover the whole 65% on their only R01, and some bridge funding for even a couple of between-grants people per department, and I am not at all surprised if the overall result is 50% *effective* coverage.

  • dave says:

    Well, that is the data I guess. It's not consistent at all with my own experience, hence my skepticism. Given the source of the data, the motivation behind the study, and the lack of transparency, I will keep some skepticism in my back pocket.

    • DJMH says:

      I don't think the lack of transparency, in this particular instance, is damning. In fact I cynically assume that institutions who know their name won't be attached to data are more likely to release honest, un-massaged data. Compare to the hot scramble to fake "yield" etc for the US News college rankings.

  • E rook says:

    If the calculation was as follows: X = $SalaryAmountFromSponsoredProjects, Y = $TotalFacultySalary, X/Y, then I am not so, but a little surprised by the results. If chairs, vice chairs, executive vice chairs, directors of various training programs, directors of cores (maybe) get >50-60% from the institution to perform their administrative roles. And these positions go to the senior faculty at $250-300+K, whilst the rank and file Assistants or Assistant Adjuncts are $65-80K, getting anywhere from 5-35%, as some say reflect their anectodal observations (ahem, mine), then this bulk number across the institution might be closer to 50% as reflected in the distributions. Makes one want to polish the pitchforks.

    • AcademicLurker says:

      This sounds about right. I spent the first part of my career at an R1 Med School, and the "foot soldiers" were not getting 50% salary support unless it was bridge funding. And there was precious little of that.

  • SS says:

    At my academic medical institution, Ph.D. faculty are required to bring in 70 to 95% of their salary from sponsored projects. Yet, the institution maintains that, on average, they are supporting these faculty at 50%. It is similar to what E rook and DJMH say-- the school's calculation includes support from endowed chairs (which go invariably to senior and almost exclusively male faculty), startup funds to junior faculty, and bridge funds (which are awarded selectively and with zero transparency). If NIH were to require that institutions provide 50% support to all faculty who apply for grants, an unintended but positive outcome could be an improvement in the lot of women biomedical researchers.

    • em says:

      This! Ph.D. faculty at my institute are typically expected to cover 90% of their salary from sponsored projects - even non-tenure line faculty who have no access to start-up funds and rarely have access to bridge funds.

      • newbie PI says:

        Given what we know about how few people hold three (or even two) major grants, which is what would be required to cover 90% salary, I find it hard to believe all these people who are commenting here.

        I also don't understand why bridge funds, startup funds, or endowed chairs would have anything to do with "sponsored programs." If these moneys from the institution are also involved in the graph above, then it doesn't really tell us anything.

        • dave says:

          You find it hard to believe, why? There are other ways to collect salary on grants without being PI.

        • SS says:

          Hey newbie-- Some comments--

          1. At top-ranked academic medical centers, Ph.D. faculty are expected to hold two R01s. Indeed, it is often a criterion for promotion. Many of the 30% of faculty who hold multiple R01s are at these institutions, paying 70-95% of their salary.

          2. Faculty who must pay 70-95% of their salary (whether or not they hold multiple R01s) apply, and sometimes actually get, all kinds of grants: R21s, P01s, disease foundations, state grants, whatever.

          3. For those of us in this situation, grant-writing has become a way of life, crowding out almost everything else.

  • dave says:

    Exactly. My whole point is that for your average research faculty at a med school, these numbers likely are not realistic. You might get 50% at my place, but you would take a large salary cut and you would be formally on borrowed time (no grant by date X and your one-year 'contract' will not be renewed).

  • Ageing PI says:

    At my unnamed medical school, I currently fund 81% of my salary, with the institute picking up the rest (Assoc prof/ PhD only). And I only got that 19% last year by threatening to leave. My more junior colleagues currently are required to support 95% of their salary at the end of start up. However, senior colleagues (full profs) with endowed chairs usually have 60-100% institutional salary support, allowing them more flexibility. So average salary support hides the huge gulf in actual support of junior compared to senior PIs. MDs at all levels have the advantage that 2 days clinical service can cover a significant fraction of salary. I did offer to see patients, but they weren't very amused...

  • Newbie says:

    Datahound: 72 responded, how many were asked and didn't respond?
    Any standard definition of faculty given (do we exclude teaching adjuncts if they are captured here)?

    The graph doesn't quite pass the sniff test of personal experience so I'm trying to see if the bias is in my observations or the shortcoming of the data. On the flip side, if this graph were to be sold as our competitors are supporting 50% of salaries so should we, that might be a, uh, valuable contribution.

    • datahound says:

      The 72 represents almost all major academic medical centers. I believe the numbers are restricted to full-time faculty so teaching adjuncts would not be included.

      I am trying to obtain other data to help mesh individual experiences and bias with reality. We'll see how I do.

  • […] system by propping up an enormous soft money PhD workforce on the back of government grant funding. Indeed ~50% of PhDs at academic medical centers are supported by grant funding. This has created an exceptionally unstable, but highly skilled workforce that is at the mercy of […]

  • Juan Lopez says:

    The numbers look VERY surprising since so many of the institutions listed demand 70-90% of salary paid from grants. The numbers might make sense if they include startups, bridge funding, chairs, costs above salary cap, admnistration, perhaps even pay for teaching. But this would be badly misleading. They are claiming these numbers as support for research.

    Cooked up numbers, in my opinion.

  • OldRon says:


    Here's an approach to get similar data at the level of individual employees.

    The University of California campuses publish salaries as part of state open record laws.

    This query gives all salaries in 2013 from full professors at one of the medical schools (UCSF, UCSD, UCIrvine, UCDavis, and UCLA)

    It gives four numbers for each person, base pay, overtime pay, extra pay, and total pay. Base pay is the state-funded part of their salary. Extra pay is either from grants or clinical pay ( i believe, there may be other special cases also).

    The data from this link is easily downloadable in csv format to analyze.

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