Challenges Facing Physician Scientist Trainees: a Survey of Trainees in Canada’s Largest Undergraduate and Postgraduate Programs in a Single Centre

Brian G Ballios, Norman D Rosenblum


Purpose: A number of indicators suggest that the physician scientist career track is threatened. As such, it is an opportune time to evaluate current training models. Perspectives on physician scientist education and career path were surveyed in trainees at the University of Toronto, home to Canada’s longest standing physician scientist training programs.

Methods: Trainees from the Clinician Investigator Program (CIP) and MD/PhD Program at the University of Toronto were surveyed. Liekert-style closed-ended questions were used to assess future career goals, present and future perspectives and concerns about and beliefs on training. Demographic information was collected regarding year of study, graduate degree program and focus of clinical and health research. Statistical analysis included non-parametric tests for sub-group comparisons.

Results: Both groups of trainees were motivated to pursue a career as a physician scientist. While confident in their decision to begin and complete physician scientist training, they expressed concerns about the level of integration between clinical and research training in the current programs. They also expressed concerns about career outlook, including the ability to find stable and sustainable careers in academic medicine. Trainees highlighted a number of factors, including career mentorship, as essential for career success.

Conclusion: These findings indicate that while trainees at different stages consistently express career motivation, they identified concerns that are program- and training stage-specific. These concerns mirror those highlighted in the medical education literature regarding threats to the physician scientist career path. Understanding these different and changing perspectives and exploring those differences could form an important basis for trainee program improvements both nationally and internationally.

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