The number of graduating psychiatry residents who choose a career in academic medicine is remarkably small, and the percentage who become National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded investigators is even smaller. Although this trend for a reduced number of physician-scientists is true in all branches of medicine and has reached criticialproportions, the perception is that this shortage is even more severe in psychiatry. The purpose of this essay is to increase awareness of the problem and begin a discussion of the reasons why the field finds itself in this problematic situation.
First, however, it is important to more clearly define the nature of the problem. At the current time, NIH funding for research and training grants (Research Career Development Awards) has attained unprecedentedly high levels, with the percent of submitted applications that are funded higher than ever thought possible. Physicians who submit NIH grant applications are as successful as their PhD colleagues, dispelling the myth that physicians cannot compete with PhDs for such funding. Others have raised the question as to whether physicians are necessary or even desirable as investigators. In other words, the entire concept of a clinician-scientist is considered by some to be simply passé.