Study reveals importance of supporting and investing in physician-scientist workforce

Albert Einstein College of Medicine

After decades of mounting concerns about the declining physician-scientist population, a recently published study from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) revealed some good news: most MD-PhD program graduates continue their careers in science. But the study also had some bad news: there still aren’t enough MD-PhD graduates to meet workforce needs, highlighting the importance of supporting and investing in early-career training for this unique group of investigators.

The AAMC’s report, National MD-PhD Program Outcomes Study, followed MD-PhD program graduates from 1964 to 2014. Nearly 80% of respondents followed career paths consistent with the goals of their training, including working for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research institutes, federal agencies or as full-time faculty. While the type of research varied, most MD-PhD program graduates were engaged in some form of translational research.

But, the report also revealed that the number of MD-PhD graduates is only about half the number estimated that will be needed to sustain the workforce. And because these investigators play an essential role in linking important scientific discoveries to practical medical applications, there are rising concerns about the lack of federal support for physician-scientist training.

Offering development programs to early-career scientists across the country, including those who may want to pursue MD-PhD degrees, is one of the ways the NIH and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) show their support for this workforce. NCATS’ Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program is helping effectively cultivate the next generation of translational scientists by providing trainees with career development resources to disseminate required knowledge, skill sets and core competencies.

The CTSA Program supports two types of formal clinical research training awards – KL2 career development funding guarantees young scholars protected time to focus on research, and TL1 training funding supports research experiences for pre-doctoral trainees who are interested in pursuing research careers in multidisciplinary clinical and translational science.

Historically, research resources at medical institutions have been focused on basic biomedical research. If physician-scientists wanted to conduct clinical trials or large population-based studies, they often had to acquire those skills on their own. But, with the offerings and funding opportunities provided through the CTSA Program, clinical researchers now have a more standardized path, along with the tools they need to succeed.

In a press release issued by AAMC, Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., AAMC president and CEO, reiterated the importance of supporting and investing in this workforce, especially since it’s evident that many of them remain dedicated to careers in the field. 

“This study demonstrates that continued federal investment in training the next generation of physician-scientists is so critical,” said Kirch. “It is vital to the health of the nation that we continue to strengthen the pathways for medical students to pursue research careers and ensure that those who embark on these careers can remain on the path through the long years of postgraduate training.”

To learn more about the resources and initiatives available to early-career scientists through the CTSA Program, please visit ncats.nih.gov/ctsa/about/training/programs.

Read the AAMC’s Analysis in Brief on this study.


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