To the Editor:
Goldstein and Kohrt’s1 concern regarding the declining number of physician–scientists has merit, and more attention should focus on reversing this trend. Physicians are perfectly placed to identify important clinical dilemmas, yet many don’t recognize opportunities to hypothesize or formulate research questions for investigation. This is arguably a shortcoming of their medical training. While most medical curricula incorporate basic research skills with varying degrees of practical experience, they need to foster a more thorough understanding of the research process as the precursor to scientific enquiry. This understanding can only be realized when a student has a personal experience of scientific discovery.
The disillusionment with the integrated concept of a physician–scientist is largely due to the lack of opportunities offered at the key points in the education of physicians that can facilitate a realistic pathway for research training and give students a head start on a research career. To counter such disillusionment, medical students should be encouraged to seek opportunities to satisfy their research curiosity and become involved with research groups. Equally, schools should facilitate communication between students and research groups to help match mutual interests and needs. Indeed, the increasing focus on translational research makes medical students ideal recruits to bridge the gap between bench and clinical science.
The University of Queensland School of Medicine, through a combination of commitment and courage, has devised a clinician scientist track (CST) allowing select students the flexibility to undertake a research master’s degree concurrently with the pursuit of their four-year bachelor of medicine/bachelor of surgery degree. The CST has created a “field of dreams” for high-achieving students with an existing passion for research by providing them the opportunity to begin careers as physician–scientists.
Our experience with this successful program has made clear that fostering a research culture within the school and keeping research high on student and staff agendas are fundamental. Research faculty must recognize the mutual benefits of gaining teaching experience by nurturing a medical student through the research process and making it more likely that the student may eventually pursue a PhD and become a future research collaborator. It is also essential to provide an educational continuum and an immersion in both research and medicine so that students gain an integrated understanding of those areas. Our success in implementing the approaches described above convinces us that students who can combine both medical and research training should be encouraged to do so.2
Diann S. Eley, MSc, PhD
Associate professor and MBBS research coordinator, The University of Queensland School of Medicine, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; [email protected]
David Wilkinson, MBChB, MSc, MD, PhD, DSc
Dean of medicine and head of school, The University of Queensland School of Medicine, Brisbane, Australia.
1. Goldstein MJ, Kohrt HE. What happened to the concept of the physician–scientist? Acad Med. 2012;87:132–133
2. Roberts SF, Fischhoff MA, Sakowski SA, Feldman EL. Perspective: Transforming science into medicine: How clinician–scientists can build bridges across research’s “valley of death.” Acad Med. 2012;87:266–270