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Physician-Scientist Workforce (PSW) Report 2014

Chapter 3: Physician-Scientists with a Medical Degree

Physician-scientists with a medical degree make unique contributions to biomedicine. From Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928 to Bruce Beutler’s and Ralph Steinman’s discoveries related to innate and adaptive immunity, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2011, MD physician-scientists have advanced human knowledge of disease and uncovered new treatments.

The importance of MD physician-scientists has been widely recognized:

  • Over the last 25 years, 37 percent of Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine had an MD degree.
  • Over the Lasker Awards’ last 30 years, 41 percent of the Basic Awards and 65 percent of the Clinical Awards have gone to MDs.
  • 69 percent of NIH Institute Directors have an MD degree.
  • 60 percent of the National Academy of Sciences Class IV (Biomedical Sciences) members have an MD degree.
  • 70 percent of the chief scientific officers at the top 10 pharmaceutical companies have an MD degree.

This chapter summarizes the findings of the PSW-WG regarding the current composition of the MD, DO, and MD/PhD physician-scientist workforce, based on an analysis of data from multiple sources, including the NIH IMPACII data system, the American Medical Association, and the American Association of Medical Colleges, as well as focus groups discussions and interviews with early career physician-scientists.