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Susan M. Culican, Jason D. Rupp, Todd P. Margolis; Retaining Clinician-Scientists: Nature Versus Nurture. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2014;55(5):3219-3222. doi: 10.1167/iovs.14-14605.
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In their IOVS article “Rejuvenating Clinician-Scientist Training” (published March 28, 2014), Balamurali Ambati and Judd Cahoon rightly point out the dearth of new clinician-scientists in ophthalmology. Within the context of their suggestions for increasing the number of successful clinician-scientists, they claim that the traditional MD-PhD training programs and K awards have failed to produce individuals who will carry on the important work of clinically relevant research that will improve patients' lives and sight. In this response we present data, including information on the career paths of graduates of the Washington University ophthalmology residency, that call into question the presumed failure of MD-PhD and K award programs and show that, in fact, graduates of these programs are more likely to succeed as clinician-scientists than are their peers who have not trained in such scientifically rigorous environments. We propose that, rather than a failure of early training programs, it may be obstacles that arise later in training and among junior faculty that prevent promising careers from reaching maturity. Funding, one rather large obstacle, takes the form of imbalanced start-up monies, less National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding awarded to young investigators, and study section composition that may work against those with clinically driven questions. We also explore the challenges faced in the culture surrounding residency and fellowship training. We agree with Ambati and Cahoon that there needs to be more innovation in the way training programs are structured, but we believe that the evidence supports supplementing the current model rather than scrapping it and starting over with unproven initiatives. The data on training programs supports the contention that those who have already made substantial investment and commitment to the clinician-scientist pathway through participation in MSTP or K training programs are the most likely to succeed on this career trajectory. To muffle the siren song of private practice and retain those best prepared for the clinician-scientist pathway requires additional investment as their careers mature through protected research time, mentorship, and advocacy.
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