Samuel L. Jones, DVM, PhD, DACVIM
Two reports from the National Research Council entitled 'National Needs and Priorities for Veterinarians in Biomedical Research' and 'Critical Needs for Research in Veterinary Science' have carefully documented the growing deficit of veterinary researchers in the face of increasing national need and demand from both academia and industry. This need arises from an awareness that veterinarians are uniquely qualified to participate in research involving animals. Through their clinical training, veterinarians have an appreciation for the animal as a whole. Veterinarians also come to appreciate common themes that transcend the numerous species they encounter clinically and they embrace the concept of 'One Medicine'. As researchers they bring to the table the understanding of when an animal model can be used to address an issue in human health or the health of another animal species and when species differences must be considered. Furthermore veterinarians are acutely aware of the importance of zoonotic diseases and are trained to recognize them. Obviously veterinarians also provide the expertise to humanely and ethically manage animal subjects whether this is in the clinical or laboratory research setting. These skills have put veterinary researchers in high demand.
The increasing proportion of ACVIM specialists seeking or are enticed to accept lucrative positions in private practice has changed the nature of ACVIM residency training programs over the years and the pool of individuals available to meet the growing demand for clinician scientists in academia, industry, or government positions is growing smaller. The ACVIM has a responsibility to address both the growing national need for veterinarians trained in biomedical research and the shift in emphasis toward multidisciplinary approaches to translate new discoveries to the clinical setting.
Partnering with other veterinary and non-veterinary organizations (e.g., other veterinary specialty colleges) is critical to develop strategies and mechanisms to train and support veterinary clinician scientists. Resources needed to train and develop clinician scientists are scarce. Training programs need funds to support the trainees and programmatic activities. Manpower to support these programs is also in short supply. The nature of multidisciplinary teams needed for discovery and translational research in the modern era requires cooperation amongst clinical and research specialties in veterinary medicine as well as human medicine. The ACVIM should take a lead role in forging such partnerships.
Access to information is a key barrier to recruiting clinician scientist trainees. The ACVIM can provide information to prospective and developing clinician scientists in many ways. Perhaps the most powerful is the ACVIM website. Information regarding career choices and career development, training programs, funding resources, mentorship, etc can effectively be provided through the website as many scientific and clinical organizations have done. Of course, marketing is a key factor in the success of any effort to disseminate information to draw attention to the website resources. Recent efforts to market the ACVIM at the annual Merck-Merial-NIH summer scholars symposium is an effective way to market the ACVIM in general to an enriched population of students likely to seek a career as a clinician scientist. The marketing and recruitment efforts at this symposium and others are a means to advertise the information resources the ACVIM develops. The recent creation of veterinary student chapters of the ACVIM also will be a powerful way to disseminate information to potential trainees.
Supporting the development of young clinician scientist in training and in the early stages of their careers is critical for their success.
Training programs at veterinary schools are essential to provide the foundation needed to be a successful clinician scientist. This goes beyond a clinical residency that may or may not have a research project as a component of the program. Academic track, research track, or fellowship type residency programs that provide one or more years of intensive research training (that may or may not lead to a doctoral degree in a scientific discipline) are available but funding is always an issue. The ACVIM should take a lead in recognizing these training programs, perhaps considering a "fast-track" to shorten the time needed to complete the training in such a combined program, and in seeking resources to support such programs.
Multidisciplinary approaches to discovery and translational research eliminate conventional boundaries that formerly defined "basic" and "clinical" research. The ACVIM should provide a forum for considering alternatives to basic research training for residents. Training programs leading to a MS or PhD in clinical or translational research are being created at schools in response to the Clinical and Translational Research Award mechanism created by the NIH Roadmap. The ACVIM should seek ways to encourage trainees and early career clinician scientists to consider training programs in clinical or translational research.
ACVIM and the ACVIM foundation have embarked on an effort to create a competitive fellowship grant program. This program is an excellent first step to provide funding for clinician scientist research training programs. The next step will be to expand the program, perhaps by partnering with other organizations to pool resources.
Mentorship is a key element of career development in any discipline. Mentorship at home institutions is, of course, important. But the ACVIM can provide formal or informal mentorship resources to trainees and early career clinician scientists by a variety of means. Matching trainees and early career clinician scientists with seasoned mentors for example. A forum (perhaps online) for discussion of and advice on a number of issues for budding clinician scientists, including roadblocks, career choices, how to seek and negotiate for a position, and starting a lab or research program, would also be quite useful and could be administered through the website.