At a time when experts are projecting a decline in the physician-scientist workforce, most MD-PhD program graduates, including those who receive federal support for their education, continue in work consistent with their training—conducting research, developing new diagnostics, devices, and treatments, and helping train the next generation of scientists and clinicians—according to a new study published today by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges).
The report, National MD-PhD Program Outcomes Study, tracks the careers of MD-PhD dual-degree program graduates over 50 years (1964–2014) and highlights results of a research project that explored their career paths, including where these graduates work, what kinds of research they do, how successful they have been at securing research funding from inside or outside the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and how satisfied they are with their decision to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. Training in these programs combines medical education, graduate school studies, and research training to create a unique perspective on the health care needs of patients. The report represents the most comprehensive analysis of MD-PhD programs to date.
“Physician-scientists play an essential role in academic medicine through innovative research and discovery and by linking that new knowledge to clinical applications that can improve patient care and the health of our nation,” said Darrell G. Kirch, MD, AAMC president and CEO. “This study demonstrates that continued federal investment in training the next generation of physician-scientists is so critical.”
According to the study:
- Nearly 80% of survey respondents are following career paths consistent with the goals of their training, including working as full-time faculty or for the NIH, research institutes, industry, and federal agencies.
- More than 75% of survey respondents conduct research, and most have research grant support.
- Time spent in the research and clinical settings for physician-scientists in academia varies widely, with more than 50% of survey respondents spending at least half their time conducting research and nearly 23% devoting most of their time to clinical activities.
- Trainee diversity is increasing, but slowly. While MD-PhD programs have moved in the direction of greater diversity by sex, race, and ethnicity, enrollee diversity still lags behind that of medical schools as a whole.
Findings of the study also demonstrate that the current number of MD-PhD program graduates per year will not meet the expected needs for the physician-scientist workforce as projected by the NIH Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group.
“The AAMC and its member medical schools and teaching hospitals are working to ensure that the supply of physician-scientists is sufficient to meet the demands of the future,” Kirch said. “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.”
A new AAMC Analysis in Brief further examines select findings from the report, including the types of workplaces that program graduates enter, the research and clinical efforts of alumni employed in academia, and the types of studies being conducted by those doing research.
The Association of American Medical Colleges is a not-for-profit association dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, and groundbreaking medical research. Its members are all 154 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, including 51 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and more than 80 academic societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC serves the leaders of America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals and their more than 173,000 full-time faculty members, 89,000 medical students, 129,000 resident physicians, and more than 60,000 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the biomedical sciences.