Perspective: The Effect of Contemporary Education and Training of Biomedical Scientists on Present and Future Medical Research

Division of Oncology/Dental School and The Greenebaum Cancer Center, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.
Academic medicine: journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges (Impact Factor: 2.93). 05/2009; 84(4):459-63. DOI: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31819a7c6b
Source: PubMed


During the past 50 years, major changes have occurred in the education and training of successive generations of young aspiring biomedical scientists. Have today's researchers benefited from the dramatically different education and training programs and requirements? Are today's scientists equal to, not as well trained as, or better trained than those of earlier generations? There is no statistical information to arrive at a definitive answer to this question. One can only relate experiences of the past in contrast to experiences of the present. The author argues that contemporary biomedical graduate and postgraduate programs do not produce "scientists," who incorporate their ability to conduct research with an understanding and knowledge of the context of their research, and who can apply their research to the functional relationships and organization of the hierarchy of living systems. Rather, contemporary programs produce highly specialized "researchers" and "supertechnologists" with limited knowledge and capabilities beyond the specialization. The author argues that the direction of biomedical research is overly dominated by the pursuit of narrowly focused, highly specialized molecular biology/molecular technology with little understanding and integration with organ systems and cellular function principles and relationships. The direction and funding of biomedical research is compromised by the narrow, myopic, highly specialized contemporary biomedical graduate training programs. This article is intended to expose these issues and to stimulate a serious discussion and assessment of contemporary graduate training as it relates to the biomedical research and issues of today and of the future.

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    ABSTRACT: In this commentary, the authors respond to the allegation that the title "scientist" has lost much of its classical meaning because of the highly specialized nature of biomedical graduate training programs that produce "researchers" and "supertechnologists." Scientists, by this definition, have a firm grasp of the historical, philosophical, and biological contexts in which their work exists, whereas their researcher and supertechnologist counterparts are limited by narrowly focused, technologically driven experimentation and data collection with little knowledge or appreciation of the integrated nature of biological systems and the historical basis of discovery. With these definitions in mind, the authors discuss how to ensure that innovative thinking and the ability to integrate molecular knowledge into a higher-order context remain alive and well, complementing today's highly technological environment. In this regard, examples of new emphasis from both scientific societies and funding agencies are provided. However, effective mentoring strategies, practiced on a daily basis, remain the best means for assuring that narrowly focused researchers and supertechnologists do not become the norm of the future. Technological innovation is critical for acquiring new insight into fundamental questions, but using that information for a greater understanding will always favor the prepared intellect. Multidisciplinary teams are emerging as the future of biomedical research. The authors propose a course of action to ensure that trainees are given the necessary opportunities and guidance to help them function effectively in a contemporary teamwork environment with scientific reasoning and logic at its core.
    No preview · Article · May 2009 · Academic medicine: journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges
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    ABSTRACT: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) peer review system has been viewed as the best way to guarantee the scientific independence of biomedical research in the United States, and it has been emulated internationally. The system, however, is subject to a variety of stresses, and these have always been exacerbated at times of flat NIH funding, as in the past five years. To address several of these stresses, NIH first conducted a "diagnostic self-study" of the peer review system and then implemented a number of changes. Costello, in a Perspective in this issue of Academic Medicine, argues that two of these changes, special consideration for new investigators and emphasis of the criterion of "innovation," undermine the stated goal of funding the "best science by the best scientists." In this commentary on Costello's Perspective article, the author examines the issue of NIH funding of new investigators from a historical perspective, in the context of overall NIH priority setting in resource allocation. The related issue of innovation as a criterion in NIH peer review is also addressed, and the commentary concludes with an affirmation of the need to measure outcomes in assessing the impact of changes in the NIH peer review system.
    No preview · Article · May 2010 · Academic medicine: journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges
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    ABSTRACT: Clinical and experimental biomedical research provides the foundation for advances in medicine, health, and the welfare of the public. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the major agency providing funding for biomedical research. The stated objectives of the NIH for funding research grants (R01s) are to "fund the best science, by the best scientists" and "to see that NIH grant applications receive fair, independent, expert, and timely reviews-free from inappropriate influences-so NIH can fund the most promising research." The NIH recently reviewed and identified issues involved with the study section peer review process that compromise the achievement of these laudable and important objectives. Consequently, the NIH has and continues to issue new guidelines and requirements relating to the R01 grant review process. The author argues that some of these NIH directives conflict with and counteract the achievement of the NIH's stated objectives. The author further contends that the directives introduce discrimination into the review process. Such conditions impede the funding of the best science by the best scientists, while funding lesser-quality research. The NIH should eliminate all directives that prevent R01 grants from being awarded solely to the highest-quality research. This is in the best interest of the biomedical community and the health and welfare of the public at large.
    No preview · Article · May 2010 · Academic medicine: journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges
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