Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Benchmarking in Academic Pharmacy Departments

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Benchmarking in Academic Pharmacy Departments

Article excerpt


The term "benchmarking" probably originated from the work performed by cobblers who measured feet for shoes by placing the person's foot on a "bench" and "marking" it out to develop a pattern. (1) Today, benchmarking is defined as the process of comparing practices, procedures, and performance metrics to an established standard or best practice. For more than 20 years, benchmarking has been an accepted practice to improve industry processes. (2) Benchmarking has numerous applications, most commonly serving as a guideline, standard, and/or comparison, thus allowing a unit, person, or organization to know where they stand in relation to the established guideline or standard. In addition to describing the industry, benchmarking often is used as a catalyst for change within organizations or industries. Table 1 describes benchmarking typologies. (2-13)

Benchmarking was first used in the Western manufacturing sector by Rank Xerox in 1983, (14) and is now used in both the private and public sectors. Although slower to take root in academia, benchmarking now is used formally and informally on a routine basis. Deans of colleges and schools of pharmacy often informally use benchmarking when adjusting admitting class or faculty size, tuition, faculty members' salaries, and building space. Because these activities often are performed informally, they rarely are labeled as "benchmarking," which may interfere with the realization or appreciation of benchmarking contributions.

The notion of benchmarking generally is met with mixed emotions. There is positive reception, as individuals recognize the value of performance standards. Positive feelings, however, may be quelled by fears and concerns regarding the potential consequences of underperformance. Therefore, while much of the literature describes the benefits of benchmarking, caution has been expressed when this tool is used inappropriately. For example, Cox and Thompson warned about implementing another's best practices as they may not be "fitting" or even adaptable for a different environment. (15) This and other similar criticisms do not discount the benefits of benchmarking, and it is in that spirit that we present this information. Thus, benchmarking should be viewed not only as a competitive endeavor, but more importantly, as a tool that can be used for multiple purposes and allow for opportunities.

Benchmarking in Academia

Universities and colleges are becoming more interested in benchmarking practices, as they are being asked more frequently to demonstrate the quality of their educational and research programs to the public and government stakeholders. (15) The culture of collaboration, as well as the widespread use of analytical research methods, both fostered in academia, bode well for the acceptance of benchmarking in the academic environment. (9,16) A rigorous comparison among institutions, "rankings," and professional colleagues is not a new concept in higher education. The novelty is in the formalization of these comparisons and the use of the term "benchmarking." The ubiquity of information technology in academia can greatly aid the dissemination of benchmarking, as a wealth of metrics is readily available for use in decision analysis, including human resource management.

The goal of benchmarking in academia is to provide institutional leaders with reputable standards by which they can measure the quality and cost of administrative processes, instructional models, and research efforts, and to identify where opportunities for improvement reside. Leadership committed to improving the quality of offerings and activities can move forward by identifying a benchmark institution that shares a similar mission or structure. The choice of benchmark is often decided by reviewing data compiled by national education groups, including accreditation bodies. (17) This external reference point can provide a standard by which to assess current programs, and it can also provide useful insights into problematic areas. …

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