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What Inspires Clinical Research Trainees and Keeps Them on the Path?
  1. Andrea L. Kalfoglou,
  2. Nancy S. Sung
  1. 1From the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC (ALK),
  2. 2Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Research Triangle Park, NC (NSS).
  1. Address correspondence to: Nancy S. Sung, Ph.D., Program Officer, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, P.O. Box 13901, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709. Email: nsung{at}

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Recent reports suggest that in the near future, the clinical research workforce will be insufficient to translate basic science discoveries into advances in health for our nation.1-5Identifying support systems and ways to reduce barriers that clinical research trainees face has been one of the shared objectives of the Institute of Medicine's Clinical Research Roundtable (CRR)6and the Clinical Research Alliance (CRA), a group of private foundations and professional societies that are committed to supporting the next generation of clinical research trainees. This affiliation includes 11 private foundations and voluntary health agencies, as well as 4 professional societies. Of particular concern is the diminishing number of physicians entering research careers and applying for first-time funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).7

The disincentives are manifold, and even those who have successfully competed for funding to establish independent research careers do not come away unscathed. A survey of 45 midcareer recipients of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund's highly competitive Clinical Scientist Awards in Translational Research8indicated that 58% of these awardees had considered abandoning their research careers, with the primary reasons cited including financial pressures, length of time in training, lack of protected time for research, and difficulty in finding funding. The group included 24 dual-degree (MD/PhD) holders, 21 with the medical degree only, and 10 women. The average age of the researchers at the time of the survey was 43 years.

Despite their reservations, however, this group had overcome the obstacles and “made it” in research. In an effort to uncover any common denominators in their backgrounds that might account for their success, we asked this group about their training experiences. Seventy-five percent had significant research experience before medical school, and among those with the medical degree only, 86% had decided to pursue a career in …

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