Physician trainees ‘want more support’ for research


By Geir O'Rourke

6 May 2024

Trainee physicians undertaking PhDs say the projects are creating significant challenges in their personal and professional lives, with a lack of formal mentorship identified as a key issue.

It comes amid persistent claims that physician-scientists are becoming an “endangered species” in Australia, despite the growing number of early career doctors taking on research around their training commitments.

Some 25 Monash University PhD candidates who had begun their studies either during or after their RACP advanced training answered a poll on their experiences, identifying a median of six “substantial challenges” each during their candidature.

The most common issue was balancing PhD studies with ongoing clinical work, reported by 18 respondents, followed by concerns about future positions as a physician-scientist or physician (13/25).

The impact of PhD work on trainee’s personal lives was another frequent problem, with 13 reporting difficulties with money, 12 with managing family and personal responsibilities and 11 with work-life balance.

But a high proportion had difficulties across a broad spectrum of areas encompassing the project itself, identity and role-related challenges and their personal lives, the researchers reported in IMJ (link here).

“A high proportion of respondents reported challenges in each of these areas, with the most prominent relating to the change in role – from a relatively experienced clinician to an inexperienced research student,” they wrote.

“When looking ahead to their lives post-PhD, students envisaged a similar number of key challenges in similar areas but commonly expressed concerns about their capacity to write successful research grants and acquire sufficient research funding.”

The study authors, nephrologist-scientist Professor Richard Kitching and endocrinologist-scientist Professor Peter Ebeling, noted that respondents valued potential support mechanisms, particularly a mentoring program.

In response, such a scheme had been established at Monash University’s School of Clinical Sciences, they said.

“In this context, students valued an independent mentor, likely a person who would be distinct from their supervisor or advocate,” they wrote.

“However, effective mentoring programs require resource allocation.”

“Somewhat pragmatically, students valued and would likely use a resources webpage but were less enthusiastic about peer-networking events or online discussions.”

“A decrease in income is also an important consideration and, in the Department of Medicine, School of Clinical Sciences, an additional stipend of $22,000 is available for medical student teaching and clinical cover.”

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