Purpose Teaching awards have been suggested to serve a variety of purposes. The specific characteristics of teaching awards and the associated effectiveness at achieving planned purposes are poorly understood. A needs analysis was performed to inform recommendations for an Excellence in Teaching Recognition System to meet the needs of surgical education leadership. Method We performed a 2-part needs analysis beginning with a review of the literature. We then, developed, piloted, and administered a survey instrument to General Surgery program leaders. The survey examined the features and perceived effectiveness of existing teaching awards systems. A multi-institution committee of program directors, clerkship directors, and Vice-Chairs of education then met to identify goals and develop recommendations for implementation of an “Excellence in Teaching Recognition System.” Results There is limited evidence demonstrating effectiveness of existing teaching awards in medical education. Evidence supports the ability of such awards to demonstrate value placed on teaching, to inspire faculty to teach, and to contribute to promotion. Survey findings indicate that existing awards strive to achieve these purposes and that educational leaders believe awards have the potential to do this and more. Leaders are moderately satisfied with existing awards for providing recognition and demonstrating value placed on teaching, but they are less satisfied with awards for motivating faculty to participate in teaching or for contributing to promotion. Most departments and institutions honor only a few recipients annually. Conclusions There is a paucity of literature addressing teaching recognition systems in medical education and little evidence to support the success of such systems in achieving their intended purposes. The ability of awards to affect outcomes such as participation in teaching and promotion may be limited by the small number of recipients for most existing awards. We propose goals for a Teaching Recognition System and provide guidelines for implementation and evaluation of such systems. Future analysis should study the effectiveness of systems designed using these guidelines in achieving the outlined goals.