Is the Training of Biomedical Scientists at a Crossroads?

Halushka, Perry V. PhD, MD; Krug, Edward L. PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31819a7d18
Commentary

In this commentary, the authors respond to the allegation that the title “scientist” has lost much of its classical meaning because of the highly specialized nature of biomedical graduate training programs that produce “researchers” and “supertechnologists.” Scientists, by this definition, have a firm grasp of the historical, philosophical, and biological contexts in which their work exists, whereas their researcher and supertechnologist counterparts are limited by narrowly focused, technologically driven experimentation and data collection with little knowledge or appreciation of the integrated nature of biological systems and the historical basis of discovery. With these definitions in mind, the authors discuss how to ensure that innovative thinking and the ability to integrate molecular knowledge into a higher-order context remain alive and well, complementing today’s highly technological environment. In this regard, examples of new emphasis from both scientific societies and funding agencies are provided. However, effective mentoring strategies, practiced on a daily basis, remain the best means for assuring that narrowly focused researchers and supertechnologists do not become the norm of the future. Technological innovation is critical for acquiring new insight into fundamental questions, but using that information for a greater understanding will always favor the prepared intellect. Multidisciplinary teams are emerging as the future of biomedical research. The authors propose a course of action to ensure that trainees are given the necessary opportunities and guidance to help them function effectively in a contemporary teamwork environment with scientific reasoning and logic at its core.

Dr. Halushka is dean, College of Graduate Studies, professor of pharmacology and medicine, and director, Medical Scientist Training Program, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina.

Dr. Krug is assistant dean, Postdoctoral Affairs, and associate professor of cell biology and anatomy, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina.

Editor's Note: This is a commentary on Costello L. Perspective: The effect of contemporary education and training of biomedical scientists on present and future medical research. Acad Med. 2009;84:459–463.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Halushka, Medical University of South Carolina, College of Graduate Studies, 173 Ashley Ave, Room 102 BSB, Charleston, SC 29425; e-mail: (halushpv@musc.edu).

© 2009 Association of American Medical Colleges