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Physician-Scientist Workforce (PSW) Report 2014

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Chapter 1: Introduction

The Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group (PSW-WG) is a working group of the Advisory Committee to the Director at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), established in the spring of 2013. Dr. Francis Collins, NIH Director, charged the PSW-WG to:

  • Develop approaches that can inform decisions about the development of the U.S. physician-scientist (PS) biomedical workforce for the advancement of science and the promotion of health.
  • Analyze the size and composition of the physician-scientist biomedical workforce to determine the impact of current funding policies of NIH and other analogous entities on clinicians’ decisions to engage in research.
  • Assess present and future needs and career opportunities available to support physician-scientist trainees in diverse biomedical research sectors.
  • Further identify the incentives and barriers to clinicians entering and continuing to engage in scientific activities.
  • The committee will make 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.

The PSW Working Group defined physician-scientists as scientists with professional degrees, who have training in clinical care and who are engaged in independent biomedical research. Those who engage in this type of research could include individuals with an MD, DO, DDS/DMD, DVM/VMD, or nurses with research doctoral degrees who devote the majority of their time to biomedical research.

The Working Group retained the title of “Physician-Scientist” as this is the term historically associated with discussions of this component of the biomedical workforce.

The charge outlined above emerged from the recommendations of the Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group, a constituent working group of the Advisory Committee to Director Francis Collins at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), tasked with addressing how to support a future sustainable biomedical research infrastructure. Its June 2012 report concluded:

The economic and educational drivers which affect the training and career paths of the physician-scientist workforce are very different from those underlying non-clinician PhD research training and career paths and there was not sufficient time for the working group to examine this important part of the biomedical workforce in detail. In addition, the changing landscape of health care and the effects these changes likely will have on academic medical centers need to be projected carefully and considered when analyzing the future physician-scientist workforce.

Therefore, the working group recommends that NIH conduct a follow-on study that focuses on physician-scientists and involves people who train physician-scientists, as well as economists who focus on medical education costs, career choices, and the role of these as incentives.