Young Clinical Scientists Have Miserable Lives. This Foundation Wants to Change That

We've written several times about funders worried about the professional plights of younger physician-scientists during the jam-packed early years as new researchers on medical school faculties. Usually, that job involves work as a professor with teaching responsibilities, as a clinician with patient care responsibilities, and as a scientist conducting basic or clinical research. These are also people at an age when they're likely to start families, so throwing new babies and other caregiving responsibilities on top of all that can create a near-impossible situation, even for the most hardworking individuals.

There are easier ways to make a living. And because of this, many promising physician-researchers with full-time faculty appointments end up leaving academia in their first decadeover 40 percent, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Attrition rates are highest for women and non-whites. Women enter academic medical centers at about the same rate as men, but make up only 19 percent of faculty at the full professor level, according to studies.

In fact, the number of physicians being trained as researchers is at an all-time low, according to experts.

Of course, lots of people (including academics of all specialties) change jobs or professional paths during their careers. But the loss of academic physicians is especially costly to the specific institutions involved, to science generally, and most importantly to the whole big society of everyone who benefits from medical research. Training academic doctors takes a big investment of time and money. And if they leave after five or 10 years on the job, that's a huge amount of research experience and skills that are simply lost to science.

Tthe Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's new Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists program seeks to address the situation. The foundation has long supported medical researchers as they navigate various points in their careers. Now, it has put up $5.4 million to establish funds at 10 medical schools to retain early-career clinical scientists.  

Each school will receive $540,000 over five years to provide stronger institutional support for early-career physician scientists, in the form of extra personnel or extra professional services to make their lives more manageable. A big part of that money is intended to provide these physicians with family care-giving responsibilities.

Grant recipients include Duke University; Johns Hopkins University; NYU Langone Medical Center; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Vanderbilt University; Washington University in St. Louis and Yale University.