In order to maintain a substantial physician-scientist workforce in the United States, research sectors must increase funding and training opportunities to make such a career path viable, according to a viewpoint article published in JAMA.

From 2003 to 2015, funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) declined by 22% due to a nationwide decrease in biomedical research support. Sparse funding is an obstacle to physician-scientists pursuing a research-based career, particularly given the substantial debt associated with their education and the challenges of work-life balance in medicine. To sustain physician-scientist interest in the research sector, the 2014 NIH Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group published 9 recommendations. These recommendations included increasing funding support, recruiting from under-represented groups, improving mentorship programs and loan forgiveness, and “diversifying academic biomedical research career track options.”

Matthew E. Hirschtritt, MD, MPH, of the department of psychiatry at the Weill Institute for Neurosciences at the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues, also highlighted the perceived dichotomy between academic research and privately funded ventures among physician-scientists, arguing that “biomedical advances [instead] depend on…both tracks.” Although the private sector typically receives more funding, it is highly stigmatized; academic research, on the other hand, is often underfunded but more highly regarded. That a distinction between the two exists is fundamental to the modern failure to maintain a physician-scientist workforce, the review authors argued.

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To surmount this challenge, Dr Hirschtritt and colleagues suggested that the public and private sectors integrate in order to offer physician-scientists exposure to both. Preeminent figures from the public and private sectors must collaborate to “define a common set of standards” for merging private and public training for physician-scientists. In that way, young investigators may transparently explore career options without feeling constrained by funding or external influences.

Funding limitations and imagined competition between the public and private sectors contribute to the shrinking number of physician-scientists in research. Encouraging collaboration between both sectors can improve the accessibility of research careers for physician-scientists and thus promote contributions to the biomedical field from these particularly capable individuals.


Hirschtritt ME, Heaton PM, Insel TR. Preparing physician-scientists for an evolving research ecosystem. JAMA. 2018;320(1):31-32.