JOURNAL ARTICLE

What will it take? Pathways, time and funding: Australian medical students' perspective on clinician-scientist training

Diann S Eley, Charmaine Jensen, Ranjeny Thomas, Helen Benham
BMC Medical Education 2017 December 8, 17 (1): 242
29216896

BACKGROUND: Clinician-scientists are in decline worldwide. They represent a unique niche in medicine by bridging the gap between scientific discovery and patient care. A national, integrated approach to training clinician-scientists, typically programs that comprise a comprehensive MD-PhD pathway, are customary. Such a pathway is lacking in Australia. The objective was to gather perceptions from Australian medical students on factors they perceive would influence their decision to pursue clinician-scientist training.

METHODS: A cross-sectional mixed methods design used quantitative and qualitative questions in an online self-report survey with medical students from a four-year MD program. Quantitative measures comprised scaled response questions regarding prior experience and current involvement in research, and short- and long-term opinions about factors that influence their decisions to undertake a research higher degree (RHD) during medical school. Qualitative questions gathered broader perceptions of what a career pathway as a clinician-scientist would include and what factors are most conducive to a medical student's commitment to MD-PhD training.

RESULTS: Respondents (N = 418; 51% female) indicated Time, Funding and Pathway as the major themes arising from the qualitative data, highlighting negative perceptions rather than possible benefits to RHD training. The lack of an evident Pathway was inter-related to Time and Funding. Themes were supported by the quantitative data. Sixty percent of students have previous research experience of varying forms, and 90% report a current interest, mainly to improve their career prospects.

CONCLUSIONS: The data emphasise the need for an MD-PhD pathway in Australia. A model that provides an early, integrated, and exclusive approach to research training pathways across all stages of medical education is suggested as the best way to rejuvenate the clinician-scientist. A national pathway that addresses factors influencing career decision making throughout the medical education continuum should include an appropriate funding structure, and provide early and continuing advice and mentoring. It should be flexible, gender equitable, and include post-graduate training. The implications of implementing MD-PhD programs represent a substantial investment. However this should not be a deterrent to Australia's commitment to an MD-PhD pathway, but rather a challenge to help ensure our future healthcare is guided by highly trained and competent clinician-scientists.

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