Exploring intentions of physician-scientist trainees: factors influencing MD and MD/PhD interest in research careers

BMC Med Educ. 2017 Jul 11;17(1):115. doi: 10.1186/s12909-017-0954-8.


Background: Prior studies have described the career paths of physician-scientist candidates after graduation, but the factors that influence career choices at the candidate stage remain unclear. Additionally, previous work has focused on MD/PhDs, despite many physician-scientists being MDs. This study sought to identify career sector intentions, important factors in career selection, and experienced and predicted obstacles to career success that influence the career choices of MD candidates, MD candidates with research-intense career intentions (MD-RI), and MD/PhD candidates.

Methods: A 70-question survey was administered to students at 5 academic medical centers with Medical Scientist Training Programs (MSTPs) and Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) from the NIH. Data were analyzed using bivariate or multivariate analyses.

Results: More MD/PhD and MD-RI candidates anticipated or had experienced obstacles related to balancing academic and family responsibilities and to balancing clinical, research, and education responsibilities, whereas more MD candidates indicated experienced and predicted obstacles related to loan repayment. MD/PhD candidates expressed higher interest in basic and translational research compared to MD-RI candidates, who indicated more interest in clinical research. Overall, MD-RI candidates displayed a profile distinct from both MD/PhD and MD candidates.

Conclusions: MD/PhD and MD-RI candidates experience obstacles that influence their intentions to pursue academic medical careers from the earliest training stage, obstacles which differ from those of their MD peers. The differences between the aspirations of and challenges facing MD, MD-RI and MD/PhD candidates present opportunities for training programs to target curricula and support services to ensure the career development of successful physician-scientists.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / education*
  • Career Choice*
  • Education, Graduate*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Research Personnel / education*
  • Specialization
  • Training Support