Canadian Medical Association Journal plans major revamp

105-year-old journal plans ‘restructuring and modernization,’ including a new editor-in-chief

TORONTO — Canada’s premier medical journal will be undergoing a revamp with the aim of bolstering its ranking among international research publications, including the hiring of a new editor-in-chief to guide the 105-year-old academic weekly, the Canadian Medical Association announced Monday.

The “restructuring and modernization” plan for the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) will be based on recommendations from a task force, which will consult with member physicians as well as outside researchers and academics about their wish-list for the publication, the doctors organization said.

“We really felt we needed to be thinking further down the road and (about) what kinds of things can we do to make sure it is a top academic journal in the future,” said CMA president Dr. Cindy Forbes.

The journal is facing a number of challenges, including falling advertising revenue and the changing habits of readers, said Forbes, noting that a high proportion of the CMA’s 82,000 members are Gen-Xers or younger.

As well, “CMAJ is competing with many respected global medical journals — some of whom are promoting themselves in Canada — to attract the best research,” she said.

In recent years, the CMAJ has seen a decline in submissions of new studies as well as its “impact factor” — defined as the average number of citations received for research published in an academic journal.

The CMAJ’s impact factor is 5.9, far below many of the top medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine’s rating of 55, the Lancet’s 45 and the Journal of the American Medical Association’s 35.

“We wanted to make sure we have the ability to attract the highest quality research in Canada … So we really wanted to make sure that we can compete,” said Forbes.

“But we also want to make sure the journal is publishing the types of things that the physicians and the academic world are interested in.”

As a result of the decision to take the CMAJ in a new direction, Dr. John Fletcher was terminated as editor-in-chief. He held the position since 2012, following four years as deputy editor of research, Forbes confirmed. A journal oversight committee, which had in part provided counsel on issues of editorial independence, has also been discontinued.

Deputy editor Dr. Diane Kelsall will become interim editor-in-chief while the organization searches for a permanent replacement.

“I think the sense was this is such a fundamental change, we really needed to start with a blank slate,” said former CMA president Dr. Chris Simpson, who will head the four-member task force charged with recasting the journal in about 10 months’ time.

“The hope is that by the end of it, we’ll have a mission and values and a plan that makes it look very, very different than it does now,” said Simpson, chief of cardiology at Queen’s University.

“We want to make sure that we deliver timely content in a way that people want to receive it and that it is valuable to them,” he said. “And from my perspective, we also really want to position the journal to be one where the very best researchers in the world feel that they can send their best work.

“It shouldn’t be the journal you send your work to when every other journal has rejected it. It really should be one where people say: ‘I really want my best work published there.”‘

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