Physician-scientists are physicians (MDs or DOs with or without additional degrees) who devote regular components of their professional effort seeking new knowledge about health, disease, or delivery of patient care through research. While all physicians receive training in medical science, physician-scientists are those who are trained to conduct independent scientific investigation in the laboratory, clinic, or other setting. A physician scientist’s in-depth clinical knowledge of human health and disease, combined with skills in scientific investigation and analysis, make her uniquely resourceful. Physician-scientists are well prepared to detect new threats to human health; develop potential new therapies, treatments, or means of prevention; communicate knowledgeably across disciplines and to lead scientific teams or organizations; and, guide important policy decisions, such as in drug approval.
Historically, physicians were pioneers in medical science, and often relying on only informal scientific training coupled to their intellectual insight and curiosity. Today, however, most physician-scientists complete formal, usually intensive scientific training in addition to their medical education. There are vibrant examples of physician-scientist training programs that accommodate students entering science at different stages of their medical training or early career. At the same time, the knowledge and skills required for medical education and clinical specialization have also increased for all physicians. Beginning in the 1970s, prominent medical leaders publicly raised the question of whether any individuals could continue to master the growing complexities of both medicine and science, while being adequately sustained by medical institutions and health systems that were also changing. They raised such concerns not to sell their profession short, but to call for added attention and resources to the needs of students and early career physician-scientists. Those calls continue to this day, as the National of Institutes of Health finds that the number of younger physician scientists applying for research support is decreasing, and that the average age of these investigators, including first-time applicants, is increasing.
For those that become academic medical faculty, physician-scientists often teach, perform research, and provide clinical service, and embody in each individual the several missions of the academic medical center. The types of science” that physicians engage in has also broadened, from laboratory and clinical investigation, noted above, to research on health services and implementation, population health, community engagement, and health equity (we also expect a growing need for physicians with expert training in emerging data sciences). The AAMC is committed to the nurturing and growth of new physician-scientists.
AAMC Committee on Creating a Physician-Scientist Training and Career Development Home
The AAMC has convened an expert Committee to develop recommendations for medical schools and teaching hospitals to more comprehensively nurture physician-scientists across the continuum of training and early career development. For more information, visit the Committee Roster (PDF) and the Committee Charge (PDF) .
A National Institutes of Health working group recently concluded—confirming decades of earlier concerns—that the nation is failing to adequately renew and advance the physician-scientist workforce, as too few young physicians are attracted into scientific research or – if attracted—find necessary support or guidance lacking at key stages of their professional development. Several AAMC member institutions have begun to create physician-scientists “homes”, which integrate the support for new physician-scientists across career stages and departments. Such homes may be formal programs, networks, or other communities that support the training and development of individuals pursuing physician-scientist careers. The AAMC Committee will focus on constructive, systemic solutions for medical schools and teaching hospitals to ensure needed support.
In all its deliberations, the Committee embraces the variety of physician-scientist careers, from laboratory-based investigation to research in clinics, health systems, and communities, as well as the multiple training pathways, from integrated dual-degree programs to accumulated, distinct educational experiences, through which individuals attain these careers.
National MD-PhD Program Outcomes Study
A report from the AAMC's Group on Graduate Research, Education, and Training (GREAT) that 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.
NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group
An NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on the Physician-Scientist Workforce issued a report with “recommendations for actions that NIH should take to support a sustainable and diverse clinical research infrastructure, as well as recommendations for actions needed by other relevant stakeholders.”