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Staying on the Physician-Scientist Path

Written by Dr. Andrea L. Cox


We hope that The Essential MD-PhD Guide has helped you to determine if the physician-scientist path is right for you or to navigate the physician-scientist path if you have already chosen this wonderful career. Clinical medicine and research have many synergies that permit the well-trained physician-scientist to succeed in both arenas.

MD-PhD programs take advantage of synergies in training that reduce the time to degree compared to earning both degrees separately and permit students to focus on clinical and research excellence simultaneously. Both MD-PhD programs and Physician-Scientist Training Programs (PSTPs) allow physician-scientists in training to come together to share support, encouragement, and advice with like-minded individuals. We recommend that you seek out events between PSTPs and MD-PhD programs and physician-scientist meetings outside your institution to extend the network of people with common goals and interests beyond your own program.

Role models and advisors who encourage people of all races, ethnic groups, and genders to pursue scientific and medical excellence will be key for continuing on this path. Engage successful mentors willing to hold regular and open discussions with you about their physician-scientist careers. If you are a member of a group underrepresented among physician-scientists, you may need to seek mentoring from supportive sources outside your own gender, ethnic, or racial group until the physician-scientist work force is more representative of the general population. Having mentors from different backgrounds can actually benefit all trainees and learning from people with diverse perspectives is critical to forming and maintaining a supportive mentoring network. At later stages, connecting with senior mentors who have the financial capacity to support researchers can be key because junior faculty awards often lack sufficient research funds to perform meaningful research and sharing expensive equipment is beneficial. A factor to consider in choosing where to pursue the physician-scientist career is workplace culture. Staying up to date with advances in patient care and research is greatly facilitated by a workplace culture that inspires open collaboration and the free exchange of knowledge and resources.

On the personal side, if you are choosing a partner, finding a supportive partner is no less important. Having a life partner who understands and values your career, who shares the workload at home, and who celebrates your success makes life so much easier and fun than a partner who is not highly supportive. Do not try to do everything yourself. Paying professionals to perform household tasks you don’t enjoy and are not any better suited to than others can free up time for work responsibilities and much needed down time, exercise, and recreation.

In addition to the pleasure of caring for patients, physician-scientists have the opportunity to do research that changes the standard of care for many more patients than they could treat in a lifetime. Success is far ...

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