Context A decline in the number of physician-scientists has been identified in the United States for at least two decades. Although many mechanisms have been proposed to reverse this trend, most of these have concentrated on MD/PhD programs, research in subspecialty fellowships, and other approaches later in physician training. Few have emphasized early medical student research experiences as a contributing solution.
Objective To determine the effect of a medical student research experience on career choices and attitudes about biomedical research.
Design, Setting, and Participants We jointly report 25 years of experience with National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored Medical Student Research Fellowship programs (MSRFs) at two colleges of medicine, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Vanderbilt University. In both programs, students work during the summer of their first or second year of medical school on a research project that is mentored by an established scientist and participate in a structured program (lectures, visiting professor).
Main Outcome Measures We gathered data using pre- and postresearch fellowship questionnaires to assess (a) quality of research experiences; (b) tabulation of productivity, that is, pre-sentations, abstracts, publications, and awards; (c) long-term tracking of former program participants; (d) comparison of residency placements by medical student researchers; and (e) comments from former program participants on the effects of their students' research experiences on career choices.
Results During this time, approximately 1,000 medical students participated in the two programs. Follow-up data (for short-term evaluations, 96-132 respondents with a response rate > 82%; for long-term evaluations, 88-118 respondents with a response rate > 29-33%) strongly suggest (a) interest in an academic career increased, (b) one-third to half of former student respondents considered themselves to be in academic medicine, (c) the vast majority of students conducted additional research after their medical student research experience, and (d) a large number of students were currently doing research or had published or presented their work at scientific meetings.
Conclusions Over two decades of experience with NIH-sponsored medical student research programs at two medical schools strongly support the ability of these programs to interest medical students in research and academic careers. MSRFs should be included in strategies to reverse the decline in the number of physician-scientists.