Physician-scientist or basic scientist? Exploring the nature of clinicians’ research engagement

Abstract

Theoretical understanding of what motivates clinician researchers has met with some success in launching research careers, but it does not account for professional identification as a factor determining sustained research engagement over the long-term. Deeper understanding of clinicians’ research-related motivation may better foster their sustained research engagement post-training and, by extension, the advancement of medicine and health outcomes. This study used an integrated theoretical framework (Social Cognitive Career Theory and Professional Identity Formation) and appreciative inquiry to explore the interplay of professional identification and research context in shaping post-training research success narratives. To foreground professional identification, 19 research-active clinicians and 17 basic scientists served as interviewees. A multi-institutional, multi-national design was used to explore how contextual factors shape external valuation of research success. The findings suggest that research-active clinicians do not identify as the career scientists implied by the modern physician-scientist construct and the goal of many clinician research-training programs. Their primary identification as care providers shapes their definition of research success around extending their clinical impact; institutional expectations and prevailing healthcare concerns that value this aim facilitate their sustained research engagement. Integrated developmental and organizational interventions adaptive to research context and conducive to a wider range of medical inquiry may better leverage clinicians’ direct involvement in patient care and advance progress toward human health and well-being.

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Authors

Contributions

Anna T. Cianciolo and Kulsoom Ghias collaboratively conceived and oversaw the design, conduct, and write-up of this study. Jordon Mitzelfelt, Allen Ghareeb, Mohammad Faizan Zahid, and Rozmeen Akbar assisted with study design, conduct, and write-up.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anna T. Cianciolo.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethics approval

This study was performed in accordance with the ethical standards as laid down in U.S. Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (‘Common Rule’) and in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. This study was approved by the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Institutional Review Board (protocol #16-608) and the Aga Khan University Ethical Review Committee (#4677-BBS-ERC-17).

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Cianciolo, A.T., Mitzelfelt, J., Ghareeb, A. et al. Physician-scientist or basic scientist? Exploring the nature of clinicians’ research engagement. Adv in Health Sci Educ (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-020-09988-5

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Keywords

  • Appreciative inquiry
  • Clinician research
  • Physician-scientist
  • Professional identity
  • Research motivation
  • Social cognitive career theory