Training of physicians occurs best when they are trained in a research rich environment that fosters innovation and creativity. These clinician researchers/scientists, who are versed in multiple disciplines, possess a unique set of skills that set them apart from other health professionals. This makes them an invaluable asset for translating discoveries in medicine into day to day delivery of clinical care. Clinician researchers meet a pressing national need, are economic drivers by early adoption of health care cost reduction strategies-technologies, and as future leaders in health research are crucial in identifying best practices for the delivery of health care, which is changing at a rapid pace. A critical need for medical leadership versed in research was identified in the Report of the Advisory Panel on Health care Innovation and as such our clinician scientists in training are the future leaders who will make the discoveries and innovate to improve the health of Canadians. These individuals however face significant challenges in the form of total length of professional training that includes research training, funding during prolonged period of training, post-training debt, future career prospects and life-long mentorship. As an organization dedicated to advancing medical education and life-long learning, the Association of the Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) believes that the next generation of health professionals will need research training to become innovative and compete in knowledge-based global economies.
The AFMC recommends the establishment of a national training strategy for clinician scientists (that includes all health disciplines) at all stages of career development. Such a plan would include a) setting national standards and metrics, including oversight, of the continuum for developing an independent clinician scientist; b) supporting active summer studentship programs that often provide medical and other health trainees their first opportunity for exposure to research c) competitive programs in which both students and mentors should show exemplary characteristics; d) leverage opportunities and partnerships to create sustainable support for clinician scientist programs; e) address issues of salary and time protection, debt relief and sustainable research funding; e) a mentoring program that spans the entire career track of the clinician scientist career.
Training of the next generation of graduate students (PhDs) is critical for the future of health research and economic development in Canada. An increasing number of graduate students in health disciplines are seeking job opportunities outside of Universities and there is a growing need for programs to support career development in other sectors such as industry and business. Training such highly skilled individuals to be fluent in science and business will stand to make Canada an attractive destination for foreign investments in any health-related sector. There have been significant changes to the Tri-council trainee award programs over the past decade or so. The creation of Vanier and Banting award programs, while desirable and effective at rewarding the accomplishments of the “best of the best” only serve to benefit an extremely small proportion of the skilled and deserving trainees that are among our most important learners within our medical schools. The offering of trainee support awards should be based on accurate projections of expected personal numbers needed to drive Canada’s future excellence in biomedical research globally. Instead, we have witnessed a steady erosion in the numbers of Tri-council Masters, PhD and Postdoctoral Scholarships and Fellowships over the past decade. This decline in awards assures that Canada’s future in biomedical research will not soar to the heights in the future that it has in the past. Thus it is essential that greater resources be distributed to restoring reasonable capacity building levels of excellent trainees (summer students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows) that will drive biomedical research excellence in the future and ensure Canada’s place a global leader in advancing solutions for the health related diseases that inflict humankind.
In the short term AFMC recommends providing increased support through targeted tri-council funding for trainees. As a longer term strategy, AFMC recommends promoting and encouraging institutional identification and supporting graduate students committed to a career in research by providing appropriate opportunities (including multi-disciplinary training) for those graduate students contemplating careers outside of academia. As a longer-term goal, AFMC encourages the Federal Ministers of Health and Science and their provincial partners in developing a pan-Canadian strategy for attracting young minds into science and providing sustainable support that increases the attractiveness of a career in science and health research.