Saturday, July 13, 2013

Some doubts arising about the Medical Scientist Training Program? Part 2

An NIH Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group has been formed and charged with gathering data and making recommendations about how to best sustain the physician-scientist biomedical workforce. The Physician-Scientist Working Group has not met yet, but there was a discussion regarding its goals at the June meeting of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD). You can view a video of the ACD meeting here; you may want to skip right to the part about the Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group. Most of the preceding discussion focuses on gloomy budgetary news and the resulting career difficulties facing biomedical researchers. The relevant segment begins at about the hour thirty-one minute (1:31) mark and runs about 10 minutes.

In Part 1 of this post, I noted that questions about the future of the MSTP program are being raised at the highest levels of the NIH. By "highest levels" I meant by the NIH Director himself. The Director, Francis Collins, asked the first question about the working group, which was whether there would be a focus on the "whole question about MD/Ph.D. training programs as a major part of [the working group's] deliberations." This is because "there are folks who are really beginning to wonder if we did the right thing by making this [MD/PhD training programs] such a centerpiece of our effort to train physician-researchers." Interesting.

The Advisory Committee and Dr. Collins should be lauded for instigating this analysis of physician-scientist training. As I alluded to in Part 1, I think the data may show that a surprisingly large fraction of MD/Ph.D. graduates end up in positions in which the benefit derived from the Ph.D. training, if any, is far outweighed by the cost in time and in taxpayer funds of that training. Indeed, the representative of the working group noted that combined clinical degree/PhD programs training dentist-researchers and veterinarian-researchers seem to be more successful than MD/PhD programs in turning out biomedical clinician-researchers. In any case, it will be interesting to see the data when it becomes available.

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