Valid financial benchmarks are needed for the research mission in academic health centers (AHCs). Databases listing institutional success in obtaining sponsored research funding are publicly available. However, these databases are generally not adjusted for AHC size, confounding useful comparisons between institutions. The authors suggest simple strategies, which depend on a form of ratio analysis, to circumvent this limitation. Annual rates of growth (rates of return, Rf) are determined for total National Institutes of Health research grant dollars, number of research grants, and average dollars per research grant for 15 U.S. AHCs. Selected institutions are compared to one another and to the total pool of medical school funding. Performance is evaluated over a ten-year period (1992-2001) to illustrate the advantages, limitations, and applications of the ratio analysis approach. Alternative strategies are suggested for individual AHCs to evaluate their departmental and organizational performance, again without regard to institution size, and also dependent on ratios. Application of these strategies, especially when individualized to the particular AHC, permits more accurate assessment of past performance and more accurate and effective planning for future growth.
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