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Strategies for Success in a Changing Research Ecosystem

Recently, discussions within the research community have intensified over the future of biomedical research and strategies to make best use of limited resources.* This spring, research leaders from fifty member institutions met at the AAMC to discuss what medical schools and teaching hospitals are doing to create a more stable, productive research environment. Discussions at the meeting revealed that significant efforts and measures to effect needed change are already underway at member institutions.

The spring conference was convened by GRAND, the AAMC's professional development group for research deans, and was joined by the officers of the AAMC's GREAT Group, representing graduate deans and leaders of research training programs. The heart of the conference was a facilitated discussion of the research leaders' shared vision for a more sustainable future research enterprise and the steps needed to achieve this vision. Among the themes which emerged were:

  • Reorganizing or restructuring research programs, including strategically focusing resources on some initiatives at the expense of others ("strategic abandonment").
  • Developing cross-disciplinary activities and team research that are more adaptable to new funding streams.
  • Creating multi-disciplinary institutes or centers to attract faculty who may not fit within traditional departmental boundaries and organizing research around more expansive strategic initiatives.
  • Broadening the training experience of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers and preparing trainees for more diverse careers in science.

Institutions are also thinking more strategically about investments in advanced technologies (imaging facilities, computing infrastructure, etc.). Research cores figured prominently in this discussion (and in a recent call hosted jointly by the AAMC's Group on Business Affairs and GRAND).

Additionally, institutions are looking at new ways to demonstrate the value of research to their campuses and local communities. For example, one medical school is studying whether medical students who gain research experience are more successfully matched to residency programs.

I believe that the most important reforms center on increased transparency and openness with faculty around financing and priority setting. The AAMC has helped demonstrate the diverse and extensive ways in which institutions invest their own resources to support sponsored research programs. A newly released AAMC report presented at the conference found that, on average, institutions invest 53 cents for each dollar of sponsored research received.

The AAMC will continue advocating for more stable NIH funding—the recent bipartisan agreement in Congress to fix the long-standing Sustainable Growth Rate formula in the Medicare program has proven the power of persistent advocacy. However, as Congressman Andy Harris, M.D., (R-MD), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and Jon Lorsch, Ph.D., Director of NIH NIGMS, both pointed out in their excellent keynote presentations at the conference: the research community must demonstrate that it is producing the highest impact and performance for existing levels of funding.

As the AAMC continues to advocate for academic medicine, and the research and research training missions of our member institutions, we celebrate their resilience and ongoing efforts to thrive in a shifting research landscape.

*Here are some links to other important articles and forums on this topic: