The clinician-scientist track: an approach addressing Australia's need for a pathway to train its future clinical academic workforce

Diann S Eley
BMC Medical Education 2018 October 3, 18 (1): 227

BACKGROUND: Clinician-scientist training represents the epitome of preparation for biomedical scientific discovery. The significance of, and need for, clinician-scientists is universally recognised as essential to progress medical research across what is regarded as the 'translational gap'. Despite a rich history of cutting-edge biomedical research, Australia has no infrastructure or career pathway for training clinician-scientists.

DISCUSSION: The Clinician-scientist Track (CST) was developed to address this concern at the University of Queensland. The CST concept began in 2010 with the Concurrent MD-Masters that allowed students to undertake a research Masters concurrently with their medical program. The rationale was to offer an attractive and realistic option to recruit our highest performing students into a research higher degree, with the underlying aim of encouraging those most capable, to transfer to the MD-PhD. The Concurrent MD-Masters was immediately popular and remains so. Over 8 years, enrolments rose seven-fold (60 MD-Masters, 36 MD-PhDs). The transfer rate from MD-Masters to MD-PhD is 28% supporting our original aim.

CONCLUSIONS: Many challenges remain for the future of the program. These challenges are underpinned by a culture that values clinician-scientists as crucial to ensuring that high quality health and medical research is undertaken and translated to patient care, but lags behind in establishing an infrastructure to develop and maintain a new generation of this vital workforce. A future challenge is to develop a coordinated approach to a supported Australian MD-PhD pathway for our most talented and committed students beginning in the undergraduate Bachelor's degree into the medical degree and throughout specialty training. Shared responsibility is necessary between institutions and stakeholders to support and nurture newly trained MD-PhDs into the post-graduate years. Flexibility across this medical training continuum that allows integration of both degrees will help ensure students make the most meaningful connections between the research and the medicine. What is paramount will be acknowledging the career expectations of an emerging cohort of medical students, in particular females, wishing to pursue research. Without these considerations we risk losing our next generation of potential clinician-scientists.

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