Background: Clinician-scientists play an important role in translating between research and clinical practice. Significant concerns about a decline in their numbers have been raised. Potential barriers for career entry and progress are explored in this study.
Methods: Case-study research methods were used to identify barriers perceived by clinician-scientists and their research teams in two Canadian laboratories. These perceptions were then compared against statistical analysis of data from Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) databases on grant and award performance of clinician-scientists and non-clinical PhDs for fiscal years 2000 to 2008.
Results: Three main barriers were identified through qualitative analysis: research training, research salaries, and research grants. We then looked for evidence of these barriers in the Canada-wide statistical dataset for our study period. Clinician-scientists had a small but statistically significant higher mean number of degrees (3.3) than non-clinical scientists (3.2), potentially confirming the perception of longer training times. But evidence of the other two barriers was equivocal. For example, while overall growth in salary awards was minimal, awards to clinician-scientists increased by 45% compared to 6.3% for non-clinical PhDs. Similarly, in terms of research funding, awards to clinician-scientists increased by more than 25% compared with 5% for non-clinical PhDs. However, clinician-scientist-led grants funded under CIHR's Clinical thematic area decreased significantly from 61% to 51% (p-value<0.001) suggesting that clinician-scientists may be shifting their attention to other research domains.
Conclusion: While clinician-scientists continue to perceive barriers to career entry and progress, quantitative results suggest improvements over the last decade. Clinician-scientists are awarded an increasing proportion of CIHR research grants and salary awards. Given the translational importance of this group, however, it may be prudent to adopt specific policy and funding incentives to ensure the ongoing viability of the career path.