by Ann-Sophie De Craemer
As a young clinician-scientist, I consider myself as the target audience for the Pathway project. A quick glance on my professional network proves the necessity of an educational program that supports clinicians in the development of a clinical-scientific career. The challenge is twofold: attracting and subsequently retaining competent clinicians in the scientific workforce.
Right from the start of the clinical training, candidate doctors should be made more familiar with the tense but fascinating interface between clinical practice and science. Nowadays we acquaint with some aspects of research during our clinical training, but few of us ultimately decide to pursue a scientific career. Being a medical doctor is felt as a very rewarding experience thanks to patient contact and direct clinical feedback. Afraid to be forced to abandon this core business, which is helping sick and disabled people, we often do not consider scientific research as a potential career option. Indeed finding the right balance between research activities and clinical practice is a common pitfall for clinician-scientists. On the other hand, the profession of a clinician-scientist is still rare and the career path is poorly defined. Caring for patients is an activity within our comfort-zone, whereas research (whether or not combined with clinical practice) represents a career full of uncertainties which leads to an indistinct professional status. Moreover, most countries do not offer an integrated training, so clinicians are forced to consecutively complete a medical and scientific training. Although these programs train them to become excellent medical doctors or qualified scientists, this effort takes several additional years of education at an age where personal life-changing events predominantly influence career decisions.
That is the moment where an integrated training program for clinician-scientists should come into play. Within such formal curriculum, students should benefit from a combination of both clinical medicine and research training, including specific training to facilitate the process of translation in medicine. In the end, we want to educate experts who play a pivotal role in supporting partnerships between different (bio)medical disciplines. Emphasis should be put on job satisfaction and career opportunities opposed to uncertainties and difficulties within this career path.
Beside attracting clinicians to science, a second challenge lies in retention of educated and skilled translational medicine experts in their professional community. Long-term professional support is urgently needed to achieve this goal. The Pathway project aims at providing a mentorship program to respond to this need for a specific target group. Being a young clinician-scientist, I genuinely believe that advice or guidance from a mentor could be extremely helpful to tackle some of the obstacles we encounter early in our career. In addition, mentors could serve as role models for best career practices; examples of success stories. They represent a specific professional niche by which we can identify ourselves. Being able to join such a community of clinician-scientists underlines our unique and valuable role within the translational landscape.