Committed Leadership, Strong Teams are Key to Successful Family Medicine Research

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Leslie Champlin
Senior Public Relations Strategist
(800) 274-2237, Ext. 5224 


WASHINGTON, DC — Despite steep barriers to strong research programs, engaged leadership, interdisciplinary teamwork and a focus on ensuring research is relevant to family medicine can result in high-performing departments, according to a qualitative study by Robert Graham Center researchers.

Reporting in “Factors Associated With Successful Research Departments: A Qualitative Analysis of Family Medicine Research Bright Spots(,” researcher Winston Liaw, MD, former medical director of the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, and his colleagues interviewed leaders at strong family medicine research departments to identify the factors that contributed to their success. One essential factor, they found, was commitment to research by the department chair.

“The barriers to enhanced research in family medicine are numerous,” Liaw and his coauthors write. Previous researchers “found that 80 percent of family medicine faculty spend a half day or less on research and, on average, published less than once per year. Others have cited inadequate infrastructure, the high cost of launching investigators, weak culture, insufficient funding and scarce research training across residents, fellows and faculty.”

Still, several family medicine departments support strong research programs. Liaw and his colleagues interviewed leaders of those programs to identify the factors that contributed to that strength.

“Our respondents identified depart­ment leadership as a factor critical to success,” Liaw writes. “Specifically, bright spot departments had leaders that value research and committed resources to support it.”

Moreover, strong interdisciplinary teams that comprised researchers, clinicians and—often—partners beyond the medical community contributed to both the focus of research and its applicability to clinical care, the study found.

“…These partners can provide funding for researchers, technical expertise and access to patients,” Liaw writes. “Several respondents discussed non­traditional partners, such as lawyers, designers, engineers and journalists, with one chair declaring that ‘fam­ily medicine is going to succeed on the strength of its partnerships and the stranger the better.’”

Equally important, research teams that included clinicians ensured the link between studies and the practice of family medicine.

“Leveraging a commit­ment to research from an engaged chair, building partnerships, inte­grating frontline clinicians, develop­ing a trusting culture among team members, and supporting intrinsi­cally motivated individuals were critical factors to the development of research bright spots,” Liaw concludes. “These les­sons can be used by all family medicine departments to enhance research.”


About the Robert Graham Center

The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care works to improve individual and population health by enhancing the delivery of primary care. The Center staff generates and analyzes evidence that brings a family medicine and primary care perspective to health policy deliberations at local, state, and national levels.

Founded in 1999, the Robert Graham Center is an independent research unit affiliated with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The information and opinions contained in research from the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the AAFP.