Many speakers observed that maintaining an adequate supply of qualified scientists to sustain and advance health research is a significant challenge. The challenge arises from the unevenness of supply given demand, and from the lack of community consensus on what constitutes an “adequate supply.”
The need for research personnel varies, furthermore, from field to field. In some specialty areas there are more qualified candidates than faculty positions. In other specialties and subspecialties, such as nursing, oral health and prevention research or microbial physiology, not enough scientists are trained to fill available positions in academia and industry.
Numerous factors contribute to the shortage of trained researchers. Some identified by public hearing participants include the following:
The scope of the research base is expanding in some fields. For example, as the population ages, there are new demands on health care services which in turn requires the development of information about the effective delivery of services to older citizens.
Career opportunities in industry are increasing, with applications not only in medicine but also in agriculture, environmental remediation, and related areas.
A large cadre of researchers is approaching retirement age.
The time needed for training a researcher is longer than almost all other types of professional training, averaging 5 to 6 years for the Ph.D. and 3 to 4 years for postdoctoral studies.
Some areas of research training, such as microbial physiology, have been neglected, while others, such as molecular biology and genetics, have grown.
Perceptions of the adequacy of the applicant pool also vary, according to speakers. In some fields the pool appears to be sufficient while in others it is diminishing. Those who felt the pool was shrinking related the phenomenon to problems in the career path, noting that too few Americans graduate from high school with an adequate grounding in science or mathematics to pursue a career in research. Some speakers felt that information is also needed about the character of the applicant pool. For example, what is the current number of individuals available for training or the number of trainees who actually choose career paths other than research?
A number of speakers noted that there is a general lack of physician-scientists. However, the need varies across subspecialties. In some areas, the pool of physician-scientist candidates is shrinking. In others, the pool may be adequate, but the loss of candidates to other career tracks is a problem. In some fields, the demand is far greater than the supply.
The unpredictability of R&D funding is a significant factor in balancing the supply and demand of research personnel, according to a number of speakers. Another issue affecting supply arising from the lack of sufficient and/or stable resources is the diversion of scientists’ time and energy from research to grant application writing.
A number of speakers emphasized the need for ongoing evaluation of “national needs” in the face of these various factors affecting “supply” and “demand.” Such assessments should include examination subject areas in which personnel “needs” exist, whether training programs are meeting those needs, the current status of training of personnel, and areas in which training should be intensified. Speakers also suggested that realistic assessments of personnel needs ought to include a look at:
Material in this section drawn from testimony by: D. Brautigan, G. Cassell, P. Cozzi, J. Fielding, S. Gerbi, B. Giddings, R. Grand, A. Jacox, H. Kazemi, G. Kimmich, V. LiCata, D. Linzer, T. Malone, B. Marshall, P. Morahan, S. Persons, C. Pings, J. Pohl, D. Purpura, I. Sandler, P. Shank, J. Sheridan and J. McCormick, and H. Slavkin. See Appendix D .