Using a Simulation of a Frustrated Faculty Member During Department Chair Searches: A Proof of Concept Project

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Vitae reviews, interviews, presentations, and reference checks are typical components of searches used to screen and select new department chairs/heads, but these strategies may fail to identify leaders who can communicate effectively with faculty in common, tense situations.


Between May 2015 and November 2016, the authors piloted simulation scenarios in four department chair searches at Penn State College of Medicine/Penn State Health to assess candidates’ skill at handling common, challenging situations with faculty members. In the scenarios, a frustrated faculty member complains that he/she has too little time for academic pursuits. Candidates were provided the scenario approximately two weeks in advance. They were asked to explain their goals prior to the 10-minute simulation, do the simulation, and then debrief with the search committees, who observed the interactions.


Approximately two-thirds (20/29; 69.0%) of candidates were judged to have successfully passed the simulation and were ultimately advanced. In most cases, the simulations revealed wide variation in candidates’ style, substance, and even underlying values that were not otherwise identified through the other parts of the recruitment and screening process. In some cases, candidates who performed well during group and individual interviews did poorly during simulations.

Next Steps

The authors will build a larger pool of simulation scenario cases, create a rubric, and formally measure interrater reliability. They will study whether the strategy successfully identifies chairs who will be skilled at navigating common faculty challenges, and if this skill results in greater faculty satisfaction, engagement, and retention.

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