NIH Report Warns of Looming Physician-Scientist Shortage


Recently the mainstream has come to embrace the fact that the job market for Ph.D.  biomedical researchers is overcrowded. According to a new report from a working group of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD), the job market looks very different for physician-scientists. In fact, “[t]here may not be enough [physician-scientists] to replace those preparing to retire,” Jocelyn Kaiser reports in a ScienceInsider.

The working group analyzed data on “M.D.-Ph.D.s, M.D.s, nurses, and other researchers with clinical training” collected from an American Medical Association (AMA) survey, finding—in stark contrast to trends in the number of biomedical Ph.D. graduates—that “[t]he number of physicians conducting research has declined 5.5% since 2003 to about 13,700 in 2012.” The working group also analyzed data from NIH and AMA and found that many NIH-funded principal investigators (PIs) are in their 60s and 70s, and that the number of PIs under 60 is declining.

The data have fueled concern for the future of the physician-scientist population. The need for younger physician-scientists is getting more attention because “we’re worried that they’re [physician-scientists are] going to dry up and this is going to be a serious problem,” said working group co-chair David Ginsburg of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in a call with reporters, as quoted by Kaiser.

Kaiser notes that some of the working group’s recommendations for fixing these problems echo those of the 2012 Biomedical Workforce Working Group of the ACD, led by Princeton University molecular biologist Shirley Tilghman:  Enrich training programs, and give more weight to proposals from young researchers. “It also recommends creating a category for physician-scientists within the so-called kangaroo, or K99/R00, awards—two-stage awards that include a training grant and research support,” Kaiser writes.

Top Image: CREDIT: NIH ACD Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group Report

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