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Physician-Scientist Workforce (PSW) Report 2014

Size and Composition of the Physician-Scientist Workforce in 2012

Using a definition of research as the self-reported primary activity, data from AMA annual surveys show that the overall size of the segment of the physician-scientist workforce with a medical degree has experienced a small but statistically significant decline over the past ten years from 14,521 in 2003 to 13,717 in 2012. In 2012, physician-scientists comprised 1.5 percent of the total physician workforce. Of particular concern is the aging of the workforce and persistent patterns of unequal participation by women and racial/ethnic minorities.

Key findings include:

  • There were 13,717 physicians with research self-reported as their primary activity in 2012 (Figure 3.1). The number of self-reported physician-scientists has declined from an average of 14,467 (2003-2005) to an average of 13,676 (2010-2012), (p<0.0001)
    Figure 3.1 Physicians Reporting Medical Research and Education as Primary Practice Areas (2003-2012)

    SOURCE: Those MD-holding Physicians that indicated they were in primarily Medical Education or Medical Research from the American Medical Association (AMA) Physician Masterfile Annual Year-end Snapshots.

  • In September 2013, of the 1,176 intramural researchers employed by the NIH, 692 (59 percent) had PhDs, 295 (25 percent) had MDs and 168 (14 percent) had MD/PhDs.
  • There are approximately 1800 funded clinician investigators working for the Veterans Administration (VA), of whom 82 percent are MDs, 15 percent are MD/PhDs, and 3 percent are RN/PhDs. There is also one DVM/PhD, but no DVM-only or dentist-scientists. Physician-scientists who work at the VA may also have NIH RPGs that are administered through an academic affiliate or the VA nonprofit corporation.28 The number of these "dually funded" individuals is currently unknown.
  • From 1976-1985, ~60-70 percent of Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigators were MDs (~ 1/4 MD/PhDs). Since that time, the total number of HHMI investigators has increased from 50 to the current 371, with a gradual decline in the percentage of MDs. In 2012, of the 371 HHMI investigators, only 92 (24.8 percent) are physician-scientists (42 MDs and 48 MD/PhDs). This pattern (as shown in Figure 3.2 below) is very similar to the change in NIH RPG awards by degree over the similar timeframe.
    Figure 3.2 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators, PhD, MD, and MD/PhD Degree (1976-2012)
  • Accurate numbers regarding the number of physician-scientists in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are not currently available.
  • 4,192 MDs and 4,086 MD/PhDs held NIH RPG awards during the 5-year period 2008-2012, as shown in Figure 3.3.29
     Figure 3.3 Individual NIH Research Project Grant Awardees, PhD, MD, and MD/PhD Degree (FY1995-2012)

    Data were aggregated over 5 year windows to reduce double counting of individuals who apply multiple times or were awarded multiple grants during that window.

  • 25,921 MDs and 5,214 MD/PhDs are tenure-track faculty at U.S. medical schools (Figure 3.4).
    Figure 3.4 Tenure Track Faculty at US Medical Schools, PhD, MD, and MD/PhD Degree (FY1999-2012)
  • 67,611 additional MDs and 4,837 additional MD/PhDs are non-tenure track faculty at medical schools, as displayed in Figure 3.5.
    Figure 3.5 Non-Tenure Track Faculty at US Medical Schools, PhD, MD, and MD/PhD Degree (FY1999-2012)
  • The vast majority of physician-scientists (whose primary affiliation is at a medical school) with NIH RPGs are on the tenure track. In 2012, for example, 72 percent of the RPGs awarded to MDs at U.S. Medical Schools went to individuals on the tenure track; for MD/PhDs, 84 percent of RPGs went to those on the tenure track.

28 M. Cody (personal communication, April 22, 2014)

29 Other than in a few select graphs, the data presented in this report are for Research Project Grants (RPG) applicants and awardees. Similar analyses for R01 grants may be found in Appendix IV.

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