For Scott Stringer, MD, there’s irony in the idea of seeking academic department chairs based on their research merits.
“The reality is, you stop doing research and you start running a small business,” said Stringer, chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC).
That reality has been at the forefront of Stringer’s work over recent years. In addition to running a department with a $17 million budget, he has devoted his research efforts to economic analysis in healthcare. And, through leadership roles in two national organizations, he is also helping colleagues around the country boost the bottom line in academic medicine.
“With shrinking external support and increased regulatory demand, academic centers have to pay their own way,” Stringer said.
“People had the idea academic leaders thought all the time and let others do the work. Maybe that was the case 50 years ago, but not today.”
Stringer assumed the presidency of the Association of Academic Departments of Otolaryngology in November; in the coming year, he will also take the reins of the Society of University Otolaryngologists-Head and Neck Surgeons.
While the latter organization is open to all such faculty members around the country, the former is comprised of department chairs from the 130 such programs across the United States and Canada.
Making academic programs more profitable is a critical issue for all the department chairs in the group, Stringer said.
The AADO’s recent meeting included a two-hour seminar on physician compensation, a topic for which the organization is currently creating a database along with productivity measurements.
“It used to be that we didn’t have to worry about the money, but now we do,” he said.
Like many of his AADO peers, Stringer went back to school in the midst of his career to earn an executive degree. At that time, in the late 1990s, he was serving as a department vice chair.
“I was running a business and needed to understand that business,” he said. “You come out of medical school only knowing about how to take care of a patient.”
For that reason, he said, the organizations he’s involved with made a point of including residents in meetings about the economics of healthcare.
“We need to help our residents understand those issues early in their career,” he said. “We also support chairs in adding business-of-medicine programs in their departments, so that we can better equip our residents for what they’ll be facing.”
Stringer did his own training at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where he received his medical degree and completed his residency in otolaryngology. A native of Beaumont, Texas, he is certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology.
He earned a master’s degree in administrative medicine through the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has served as department chair for the past 11 years.
Stringer came to UMMC from the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, where he spent 14 years on the faculty and served as vice chair of the department.
He was attracted to UMMC’s department for the challenge.
“The program was on probation and had been kind of neglected,” he said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to build something from scratch. The school and state have been extremely supportive of that effort.”
Since Stringer was hired to rebuild the department, it has grown from one faculty member to 54, and has come out of probation to pass all its accreditation measure. Today the program is ranked in the top 25 in the nation in terms of research funding, Stringer said.
“We got a lot of key people to believe in our vision,” he said. “The vision got people here, then we turned it into reality by implementing best business practices and caring about our people.
“We may not be the biggest otolaryngology department in the nation, but nobody can treat people better than we can.”
The department’s relationship to ENT practices around the state has changed as it has had to become more attentive to the bottom line, Stringer said.
“There are times when we may appear as competitors, but really we are mutually dependant,” he said. “While we do overlap a little bit, in that we’re all having to pay our way, we really have a very different mission and role.”
For the department, that role includes taking care of all the patients other practices can’t, for one reason or another, Stringer said.
“We’re also going to produce their next partner, and we’re going to generate resources for every community our people go out into,” he said.
While the state still provides approximately 11 percent of UMMC’s total operating budget, the cost of providing healthcare for the underserved and training healthcare professionals has risen far more quickly than the state’s appropriation, Stringer said. Meanwhile, he said, the threefold mission of academic medicine — research, education and patient care — offers an extra financial challenge beyond those facing healthcare in general.
“Not only do we have to make enough money to pay our salaries,” he said, “we have to make enough extra to run those other missions.”
Outside of work, Stringer enjoys outdoor activities like running — he’s training for a marathon — and golf. He also plays the guitar.
He and his wife, Michelle, a former nurse who now works as a florist, have two grown children: Steve, who is wrapping up a graduate degree in screenwriting at the University of Texas, and Lindsey, who works for a nonprofit teaching English as a second language.