Physician-scientists, because of their perspective of asking scientific questions influenced by their experience of caring for patients, are uniquely positioned to perform research that directly benefits patients. Yet, the physician-scientist workforce is shrinking and aging, portending decreases in the effectiveness of the medical enterprise to discover new treatments and cures. Recognizing the detrimental effects of a physician-scientist shortage, the Association of Professors of Medicine (APM)—the organization of departments of internal medicine represented by chairs and appointed leaders at medical schools and affiliated teaching hospitals in the United States and Canada—has begun a long-term initiative to identify, develop, and implement substantive and practical solutions that will ensure the survival, growth, and diversity of the physician-scientist workforce.
The APM Physician-Scientist Initiative—led by Principal Investigator Andrew I. Schafer, MD—is planned in linked phases. Phase I focused on evaluating the physician-scientist problem and creating a set of recommendations for growing, revitalizing, and diversifying the physician-scientist workforce. This goal was achieved through a series of structured surveys and focus groups (results summarized in Appendix A), which in turn helped inform the agenda for the APM Physician-Scientist Initiative Consensus Conference, “Revitalization of the Nation’s Physician-Scientist Workforce,” in November 2007. The consensus conference (planning committee, Appendix B) assembled leaders of the academic, medical, and research communities; representatives from the various governing bodies that influence, fund, and regulate biomedical research and academia; respected experts on issues facing the physician-scientist workforce; and young physician-scientists (conference participants are listed in Appendix C).
Following plenary lectures presenting the perspectives of academia, industry, and the federal government, the conference was largely interactive, with targeted breakout groups focused on specific aspects of the physician scientist career path (see Appendix D). Breakout group participants proposed their single, best, articulated recommendation for enhancing the highlighted areas, while the full group debated and discussed additional opportunities to improve the pipeline, whether via entry or improved retention. The complete list of 30 recommendations emanating from the conference breakout sessions and general group discussions is provided—in no priority order—in Appendix E. Participants provided a preliminary assessment of the recommendations followed by a more detailed, analytical assessment post-conference, prioritizing, commenting, and editing the recommendations to create a more sharply focused action plan.
While Phase I of the initiative was intended to understand the driving contemporary forces that shape the problem today and to formulate specific recommendations, Phase II will expand and activate a coalition group of key leadership organizations to move the agenda forward by developing next steps, a coordinated national strategy, and oversight of implementation of the action plan.