Young physician-scientists needed

By Laura Mize • Published: January 19th, 2016
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Physician-scientists are medical doctors who focus largely on research but also see patients. These doctors are responsible for many advances and discoveries in modern medicine.

The role they play in moving medicine forward is critical. But statistics show that their numbers have been declining. Based on a report from the National Institutes of Health, a team of authors has published an editorial in The Journal of Clinical Investigation chronicling the state of the physician-scientist workforce.

The data shows the age of physician-scientists is creeping upward, as is the age at which they typically obtain their first independent research grants. In academic medical research, independent grants are key to sustaining a career.

In addition, only 30 percent of scientists receiving grants from the N-I-H are physicians. Researchers with a Research Project Grant from the organization are nearly all at least 37 years old.

With fewer budding young physician-scientists than in the past, and more competition for grants they need to do their jobs, what will be the future of medical discovery? Could we be staring at a time of fewer scientific breakthroughs?

\To increase growth in the ranks, the editorial authors offer several steps. They point to M-D, P-H-D programs as good models for advanced training and also call for improvements in mentoring programs for physician-scientists. This, the authors argue, will help keep people in the field. They also make the case for a shorter path for a physician-scientist to become “independent”… that is, to be able to get her first research grant in her name, rather than a mentor’s. Lastly, they state the need for more… and more diverse… trainees.

Perhaps this way we can boost the number of physician-scientists, to keep discovery marching onward.