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With the dramatic decline in physicians entering the clinical research workforce in recent years (from 4.2% of all physicians in 1984 to 1.8% of all physicians in 1999, according to the American Medical Association), many concerned onlookers have hypothesized about the cause of this phenomenon and about ways to address it. One factor that has been identified as a major deterrent to would-be physician-scientists is the crushing burden of medical school debt experienced by most graduates. On completing their residencies and fellowships, many physicians feel compelled to enter clinical practices to earn enough money to pay off their huge educational loans. A study performed by the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2000 found that 81% of graduates from medical school had school loan debt, with the average debt per graduate being $95,000.
In response to this concern, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and several private foundations have established loan repayment programs to assist young clinical researchers in paying off medical school loans. The Clinical Research Enhancement Act (see JIM news article, 2001;49:7-8), which was signed into law in November last year, authorized the NIH …
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