The Power of Team Science

Science, particularly in medicine and surgery, is increasingly a team sport. In fact, both public and private funding agencies have established explicit funding avenues to promote individuals to work together across disciplines to move forward the research questions most pressing to our healthcare system. The Science of Team Science (SciTS) has now evolved as a unique discipline centered on defining the barriers and facilitators of effective cross-disciplinary initiatives.

Team science is challenging, however. Mentorship and collaboration most often happens organically, and it takes time to develop trusted and productive relationships, particularly in competitive environments. In addition, in corporate disciplines, research suggests that defining contributions, responsibilities, and ultimately, recognition, can be difficult; missteps can quickly break the esprit de corps of the team. Finally, many traditional metrics of success in academic medicine and surgery remain centered around an individual, such as “corresponding author,” “contact principal investigator,” “first author,” or “last author.”

Nonetheless, collaboration is powerful. Interdisciplinary diversity brings innovation and creativity. For example, the discovery of the structure of DNA harnessed the expertise of chemistry (Rosalind Franklin), physics (Maurice Wilkins), zoology (James Watson), and physics (Francis Crick). In addition, collaboration across disciplines has the potential for higher-impact work with greater efficiency and the ability to generate novel solutions for complex problems. Finally, diverse teams have been shown to demonstrate greater success in challenging environments compared with teams in which individuals are more homogenous with respect to experience, perspective, and training.

As surgeons, we participate in teams each day in our clinics and operating rooms to deliver care. As hand surgeons, we are privileged to join teams of experts in anesthesia, occupational therapy, rehabilitation medicine, rheumatology, and primary care, to name just a few, to help diagnose and treat all upper extremity conditions from the simplest to the most complex. As scientists, we now have the chance to partner across disciplines and leverage the power of collaboration to advance our specialty.

Article written by:

Jennifer Waljee practices hand surgery and plastic surgery at the University of Michigan – Go Blue! In her spare time, she enjoys running, playing the piano, reading mystery novels, and spending time with her husband and two daughters who are the light of her life.

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  1. Matt Tomaino

    Great message Jennifer! The very diversity that creates the potential for synergy may inevitably challenge team effectiveness and “wellness” especially when teams are assembled, not built over time, or when teams meet sporadically as opposed to regularly.
    And so, how we as physicians collaborate is so critical. We need to become extremely proficient at building trusting relationships with everyone so that any and all conflict can be deliberately and conscientiously resolved—–in the interest of continual learning and team development. Peter Murray, Kay Kirkpatrick and I will be addressing this subject in an ICL in San Francisco at the annual meeting.

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