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Study: Mentorship programs build long-term research careers

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A public-private mentored research program based at the NIH called the NIH Clinical Research Training Program (CRTP) has helped foster the careers of research-oriented medical and dental students, and similar programs may help bolster the dwindling pipeline of biomedical researchers and clinician-scientists, according to a study now available electronically in Academic Medicine.

The NIH CRTP, which ran from 1997 to 2012, was a yearlong research enrichment program conducted at the NIH intramural research program in Bethesda, Maryland. In the study, NIH experts assessed career and research outcome data from CRTP alumni. At a time when the number of clinician-scientists is declining, the study indicates that the CRTP helped shape the careers of many research-oriented medical and dental students as measured by time conducting research, successful competition for federal funding, and the publication of their research.

In surveying CRTP alumni, the authors determined that nearly two-thirds of scholars who had fully completed formal training, including professional school, a primary residency and fellowships, were now conducting research for some percentage of their time, many at academic medical centers, as opposed to entering entirely into full-time practice of medicine.

While additional follow-up is warranted to assess the longer-term impact of these mentored research experiences, the authors conclude that investments in mentored research programs for health professional students may be invaluable to reverse the trend of fewer medically trained doctors and dentists from entering careers in biomedical and clinical research.

“These preliminary data are very encouraging, but our goal is to continue to track research outcome measures for this initial cohort as well as for the larger denominator of all CRTP trainees who have more recently completed their post-graduate clinical training,” according to Frederick P. Ognibene, M.D., lead author and former CRTP director, who is currently the NIH Clinical Center’s Deputy Director for Educational Affairs and Strategic Partnerships.

The CRTP was an NIH intramural initiative to enhance interest in clinical research careers for medical and dental students. During its 16-year run, CRTP provided yearlong mentored clinical or translational research opportunities for 340 medical and dental students, chosen from 1,300 applicants.

Because the majority of CRTP participants were still in residency and fellowship training at the time of data collection in 2012, the study focused on career progression of CRTP participants who had completed residency and fellowship training by January 1, 2014. The participants had transitioned to academic medical centers with junior faculty positions, clinical practice or industry (pharmaceutical, biotechnology or device companies).

Out of the 340 total CRTP participants, 135 had completed their primary and subspecialty training by 2014. The data of those 135 scholars were then analyzed, excluding five subjects who did not provide follow-up.

Of the 130 survey respondents, 64.6% indicated that they were conducting research including 74 in faculty positions at academic medical centers. Forty-six study participants, or 35.3%, reported spending more than a quarter of their time conducting research. Over 25% of the individuals conducting research received some form of grant support from NIH.

In 2012, the CRTP and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-NIH Research Scholars Program were combined into a new program called the Medical Research Scholars Program, which similarly provides yearlong mentored research experiences ranging from basic science to translational and more clinically oriented research for outstanding medical, dental, and veterinary students.

“Physician–scientists have made critical contributions to basic studies that have led to numerous Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine and chemistry,” said Senior Author Michael M. Gottesman, M.D., NIH deputy director for intramural research. “They represent a very special population of researchers with unique insights into biomedical and disease processes. Yet, the NIH MRSP and only a handful of other privately and publically funded yearlong research programs still exist to maintain the clinician–scientist pipeline for young investigators. Hopefully our data will encourage NIH and others to initiate or enhance such programs.”

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