, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 219–237 | Cite as

What are Clinician Scientists Expected to do? The Undefined Space for Professionalizable Work in Translational Biomedicine

  • Barbara HendriksEmail author
  • Arno Simons
  • Martin Reinhart


Clinician scientists have gained institutional support in the era of translational research, as the key solution to closing the ‘translational gap’ between biomedical research and medical practice. However, clinician scientists remain an ‘endangered species’ in search of a secure niche, while new grants and training programs attempt to counteract their measurable decline in numbers over the past decades. Our study asks how an occupational space for clinician scientists is currently situated between the politics of translation, professional dynamics, and the specialization of academic disciplines. We interviewed clinician scientists, their adjacent professions—clinicians and biomedical researchers—, and contrast their views with expectations from the discourse on clinician scientists in the biomedical and policy literature. We identify professionalizable work and tasks that relate to, first, being able to speak the two languages of both clinic and research, second, translating patients’ needs and clinical experience for further research, and third, counteracting the trends towards specialization by providing an inclusive point of view. We find that clinician scientists are overburdened with fulfilling a hybrid role of simultaneously being clinicians and scientists. Based on these findings, we suggest a path for the future professional development of clinician scientists towards the role of a translator.


Clinician scientists Translational research Biomedical professions Medical professions Sociology of professions 



We would like to thank Faten Ahmed for her contributions to the study design and Ruth Sonnet for her assistance with the coding process and manual data input. We thank Anne K. Krüger, Stephan Gauch and Clemens Blümel as well as the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and the research group at QUEST Center for their constructive discussions. We also want to thank the participants and convenors of the sub-theme “Justifying the Organization: Dealing with Conflicting Economies of Worth and Legitimacy Struggles” at the European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS) in Copenhagen for their helpful advice. Last but not least, we want to thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 352 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara Hendriks
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Arno Simons
    • 2
  • Martin Reinhart
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Humboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW)BerlinGermany

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