Background: Physician-scientists (the physician-scientist workforce) are aging, and there are too few physician-scientists in the pipeline to replace those who retire. Moreover, the pipeline is leaky because some trainees and junior physician-scientists choose other career paths. Significant attention has been directed toward patching the leaking pipeline, thereby increasing the quantity of physician-scientists. Less attention has been devoted to identifying and training more successful physician-scientists, thereby increasing the quality of the pool and making up for the attrition. Though all training programs strive to develop more successful graduates, there is no clear understanding of what constitutes predictors of future success. Identifying characteristics of success would enable those who recruit trainees-and later hire and fund physician-scientists-to make more informed decisions. It also could impact on the training, as it would be possible to focus on competencies that foster success. Predictors of success are therefore important. Prior to taking on this task, however, we must first define success for physician-scientists.
Methods: To identify likely characteristics of success, we undertook a qualitative case study where 21 physician-scientists were interviewed to determine their perceptions of what constitutes a successful physician-scientist. Sixteen interviewees were selected based on convenience sampling, while the remaining five were selected based on the snowball effect. Interviews were transcribed and coded in Dedoose® and a qualitative analysis was conducted using an inductive approach to content analysis.
Results: There was considerable variation in their perceptions based on seniority and gender. Junior physician-scientists focused on metrics on which their promotion is based, e.g., publications and grants; senior physician-scientists focused on their legacy, e.g., contribution to the field and mentoring. Women were more likely to emphasize objective measures of success, like publications, while concurrently concentrating on relational skills, like networking, collaboration and public recognition. Men emphasized the impact of science and subjective characteristics like boldness, confidence and critical thinking.
Conclusion: Clearly, physician-scientists are not working off of a uniform metric of success, thereby making their evaluation and remuneration a convoluted process, especially if those evaluating the physician-scientists are not of the same mind as to the definition of success.
Keywords: Faculty; Gender; MD-PhD; Physician-scientist; Promotion; Success.