Research is not for the Faint of Heart
Mar 30, 2015 12:00 AM
Challenges facing health care are compounded at academic medical centers, which are responsible, not only for improving health care but for educating tomorrow’s health professionals, propelling scientific discovery and the development of new drugs, devices and diagnostics, and advancing population health.
Ask Nancy Andrews, though, what vexes her most as dean of Duke University’s School of Medicine, and she’ll say: Waning federal support for basic science.
“What keeps me up at night is worrying that we’re going to lose one or two generations of young scientists, particularly young-physician scientists,” Andrews, M.D., Ph.D. said during a recent interview prior to delivering the University of Utah’s Benning Society Public Lecture on Medicine. “They have choices for other things they can do and [I worry] that sometime, maybe 10 years from now when people my generation and older have retired, we’ll realize there aren’t enough young people coming up to fill in.”
I share Andrews’ concerns. Imagine being a young scientist today. A steady drumbeat of authority figures have encouraged you to pursue science and technology. You’re told there’s a shortage of people trained to work in these fields. But by the time you finish your graduate work, you learn there are more Ph.D.’s than there is funding to support them –– that your federal grant application has a one in six chance of getting funded.
It’s not a field for the faint-hearted. With challenges come opportunities to rethink how we do science and how we train and mentor young scientists. Under the leadership of our Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Dean Li, University of Utah Health Sciences pulled down a record $258 million in research funding last year, despite a 25 percent decline in the purchasing power of the chief-grant making entity, the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
We accomplished this by right-sizing labs, finding more collaborative and efficient paths to discovery, working with private funding partners –– and by actively mentoring junior faculty.
Young faculty in our Vice President’s Clinical & Translational Research (VPCAT) Research Scholar Program, led by AVP for Academic Affairs, Dr. Carrie Byington, receive two years of hands-on mentoring. They meet with biostatisticians, and are given access to libraries and data sets, to help them design viable studies and write persuasive grant applications. Many of them are able to secure funding in an era when it takes MD’s 17 years on average to win their first grant. These programs also contribute to the U.'s high retention rate; 98 percent of our junior investigators stay in academic careers, and 91 percent remain at the U.
Large grants and research portfolios are important. But because we believe entrepreneurs can have just as big an impact on improving care and the bottom line, we also teach faculty to use cost data and LEAN management principles to improve care delivery. We’ve formalized this training for new, on-boarding faculty and our partners at affiliate hospitals and clinics. The resulting ValueUniversity, a competency-based training seminar debuts this spring in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Recognizing that the traditional post-doc-to-tenured-professor track is no longer the only path to success or career satisfaction, our Center for Medical Innovation, under the leadership of Director Dr. John Langell, serves as a collision space where students, faculty and industry leaders from multiple disciplines collaborate to design medical devices and therapeutic video games. We invest heavily in these and many other shared resources, such as core research facilities, and make them available to all. We invest in our people, and for us, the future looks as bright as ever.
Andrews is correct in saying there’s never been a better time to be in academic medicine. Advances in genetics and bioinformatics have dramatically improved the odds of solving some of the most persistent and prevalent health problems, and we’re not about to let a funding squeeze slow us down.comments powered by Disqus