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Clinical Research Careers

Clinical research brings the latest therapies and pharmaceuticals from the laboratory bench to the bedsides of real patients. The discipline blends two different worlds--the laboratory and the clinic--and translates basic discoveries into treatments for human disease.

So, who is qualified to become a clinical researcher? As Carolina Maier, a Ph.D. postdoc at Stanford University's Department of Neurosurgery, says in her essay, "There is no requirement to have an M.D. degree to do clinical research." These days, you are quite likely to find Ph.D.s leading multidisciplinary clinical research teams, alongside physicians and M.D./Ph.D.s.

In fact, according to the 2000 National Research Council report, Addressing the Nation's Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists , Ph.D. scientists were named as PIs on more clinical grants funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality than M.D.s or M.D./Ph.D.s in fiscal year 1997 in the United States. The report cites both a rise in Ph.D. degrees being granted in clinical disciplines and a decrease in the numbers of physicians engaging in research as reasons for this trend. M.D.s typically emerge from medical school with mountains of debt, and this often drives young doctors to choose private practice over a research career.

Breaking Into Clinical Science, which highlights the different routes individuals have followed to become clinical scientists, is just one of the subsections that we have created within this feature on clinical research. Also included are essays from individuals who do clinical research in industries, large and small; a listing of the kinds of opportunities available to clinical scientists; a snapshot of some of the research topics clinical scientists pursue; and discussion of the ethical considerations that are part and parcel of working with human subjects. Finally, as always, Next Wave editors around the globe have compiled a comprehensive list of resources for this feature. This list includes links to U.S. fellowships and grants intended to ease the debt burden of physician-scientists, as well as other funding opportunities for M.D., M.D./Ph.D., and Ph.D. clinical researchers, global links to clinical professional societies, and sites listing job openings.

Breaking into Clinical Science


Allison Chausmer wasn't always a clinical scientist. Read about the Johns Hopkins postdoctoral program that helped her transition from basic animal research into studies using human participants.


What is a clinical research associate, and how do you become one? Claire Ivey decided that it was a path with better prospects than academic research, but found that it was tough to break in.


In investigating clinical research training strategies, Next Wave Canada editor Lesley McKarney has unearthed some useful tools for opening doors--volunteering, networking, and additional education.


While completing her postdoc in basic research, Esther Brooks-Asplund "felt there was something still missing--the clinical research setting." In her essay, Brooks-Asplund tells us what she does now as a clinical scientist at Cato Research.


As an M.D./Ph.D. student, Genevieve Boland gets to see the "big picture"--how basic discoveries made in the lab can be applied to patients in the clinic.


Elizabeth Molloy, a master's degree student working on clinical studies at NIH, has a few words of advice to keep in mind when choosing a clinical thesis lab.



As a research coordinator, Chantel Rosenberger is in daily contact with patients. Managing the clinical testing for Texon's products in emergency room settings makes her feel a bit like Superman.


In transitioning from academia to the Boehringer Ingelheim Canada Ltd./Ltée company, Terry Sills had to get used to some new things, such as working in teams and an alphabet soup of acronyms.


Now a senior manager in clinical research at Merck Frosst Canada & Co., Tessa Trasler has transitioned from academic theories to practical applications.



Adam Cohen, professor of clinical pharmacology and director of the Centre for Human Drug Research, surveys the situation for clinical researchers in the Netherlands.


Sam Hamilton was a clinical research associate, then created a new position for herself--a field-based clinical project manager. Now a senior medical writer with the same company, Hamilton stays closer to home these days.


Find out the latest information on the clinical research scene in India--the trends in clinical trials, the government?s role, workforce requirements, and challenges for scientists.


One way to get involved in clinical research is to join an M.D./Ph.D. program. Christian Nixon, an M.D./Ph.D. student, says that the rewards are limitless for budding physician-scientists.


Carolina Maier says that you don?t need an M.D. degree to become a clinical researcher. In her essay, Maier describes clinical options for basic scientists.


Eick von Rusckowski describes the strides taken by the medical faculty at the Technical University of Dresden. In fact, Detlev Michael Albrecht, the medical faculty's dean, says, "Our main principle is to make unconventional things happen."


Want to complete an M.D./Ph.D. program in Germany? If so, read about the international postgraduate Molecular Medicine program at the Hannover Medical School.

The Research--Just the Facts!


In his essay, Claudio Sartori describes his clinical research on humans in extreme environments. Sartori looks at how lungs are affected by high altitude.


By analyzing patients? blood and tissue samples, Heike Bantel has discovered new insights on the process of apoptosis.


In his essay, Aernout van Haarst, a Ph.D. scientist, tells us about a typical day in clinical research.


Alberta Springer is a graduate student conducting neuropsychology studies at NIH. She tells us about her project and introduces us to the members of her research "family."



Mary Faith Marshall, chair of the National Human Research Protections Advisory Committee, describes researchers? obligations to human research participants, and how these rules are developed and enforced.



One can find a clinical career from many different starting points. Our Resources page, compiled by Ric Weibl, gives you examples of that diversity, listing links to professional societies, job opportunities, and organizations with funding to support your work.

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