The Physician-Scientist Career Pipeline in 2005: Build It, and They Will Come | Medical Education and Training | JAMA | JAMA Network
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Original Contribution
September 21, 2005

The Physician-Scientist Career Pipeline in 2005: Build It, and They Will Come

Author Affiliations
 

Author Affiliations: Section of Stem Cell Biology, Division of Oncology, Departments of Medicine and Genetics, Siteman Cancer Center, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Mo (Dr Ley); Department of Molecular Biology and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ (Dr Rosenberg).

JAMA. 2005;294(11):1343-1351. doi:10.1001/jama.294.11.1343
Abstract

Context Physician-scientists play a unique and critical role in medical research. Nonetheless, a number of trends followed during the 1980s and 1990s revealed that this career pathway was in serious jeopardy. Physician-scientists were declining in number and were getting older. A variety of factors were thought to contribute to this problem, including increasing indebtedness of medical school graduates caused by rapidly rising medical school tuition costs.

Objective To evaluate the impact of recently initiated programs from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and several not-for-profit institutions designed to revitalize the physician-scientist career pipeline.

Design We assessed recent trends in the physician-scientist career pipeline using data obtained from the NIH, the American Medical Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and other sources.

Main Outcome Measures Total numbers of physicians performing research, grant application numbers and success rates for MDs, MD-PhDs, and PhDs at various stages in their careers, interest in research among medical students, medical school tuitions and postgraduate salaries, numbers and composition of applicants for NIH loan repayment programs, and gender distribution of young physician-scientists.

Results The number of physician-scientists in the United States has been in a steady state for the past decade, but funded physician-scientists are significantly older than they were 2 decades ago. However, the study of early career markers over the past 7 to 10 years has demonstrated increasing interest in research careers by medical students, steady growth of the MD-PhD pool, and a new burst of activity in the “late bloomer” pool of MDs (individuals who choose research careers in medical school or in residency training), fueled by loan repayment programs that were created by the NIH in 2002. Several recent trends for more established physician-scientists have also suggested improvement.

Conclusions Although it is too early to assess the impact of these indicators on the long-term career pathway, the recent growth in activity in the physician-scientist career pipeline is an encouraging development. Continued funding of these new programs, coupled with sustained support for physician-scientists committed to the pathway, will be required to maintain these positive trends.

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