The Physician Scientist Development Program (PSDP)
The Physician Scientist Development Program (PSDP) is a mentored, pre-tenure track junior faculty position. The program lasts for three to five years during which time the incumbent designs and implements an integrated, translational research program. The key elements of support for the program are that it is prospectively and stably funded, that defined mentorship is provided, and that the program takes advantage of the research environment of the intramural National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and the NIH Clinical Center. The participant, with the assistance of the mentor, will design a translational research project that is of interest to the candidate and exploits the research strengths of the intramural NIH environment.
Creation of PSDP
Bringing the enormous opportunities and potential of the Human Genome Project (HGP) to the benefit of human health requires physician-scientists who can make important diagnostic and therapeutic advances by carrying out translational research: research that bridges the fields of genomics and medicine. To date, the HGP has been carried out primarily by basic researchers, consistent with the enormous technical scientific challenges of the project. While there remain numerous, basic science challenges that will be best addressed by basic science researchers, we need to bridge the highly technical world of genomics with important and relevant human health issues. This program is designed to train individuals to accomplish this important and exciting work.
The mission of NHGRI is not simply to generate the sequence of human beings and model organisms and to catalog their genes, but to use the information and technology generated by the HGP to improve human health. Because we believe that the physician scientist plays a crucial role in accomplishing this goal, we seek to promote training and research opportunities for physicians committed to pursuing translational research by providing an optimal environment in which to develop the skills necessary for world class, translational genomics research. We intend to assist in the development of a cadre of researchers who can compete for faculty positions at the best institutions in the world and produce a body of work that substantially advances our understanding of human health and disease.
The program is not a fellowship and it is anticipated that most participants will have already completed a fellowship. We recognize that tenure track research faculty positions are very competitive and that the typical sub-specialty fellowship often does not provide the M.D. with the necessary research experience upon which to build an independent research career, particularly when clinical research with human patients is involved. The purpose of the PSDP is to provide the necessary additional training, with formal mentorship and strong support. At some academic medical centers, the individual NIH grant types K01, K08 and K23 are often used to support similar positions in the extramural community. The PSDP serves as a bridge to an independent tenure track position and gives the participants many of the benefits of a tenure track position without many of the distractions.
Intramural research in the NIH is primarily reviewed retrospectively, not prospectively like an extramural NIH grant. This provides several important advantages. First, the funding is automatic once the participant is appointed, unlike accepting a junior faculty position where you have startup funds and have to quickly generate external funding. In the PSDP, you can start the research as soon as the plan is developed. Demonstration of appropriate progress annually will ensure continued funding through the completion of the training period. This minimizes the amount of time participants spend obtaining grant support and maximizes productive research time.
The NIH Environment
The intramural research program of the NIH is unique. The NIH Clinical Center is an enormous research center, the largest in the world. It comprises 267 inpatient beds, 15 outpatient clinics, manages 7,000 inpatient admissions yearly, and provides state-of-the-art diagnostic, treatment, and research facilities to 1,200 credentialed physicians, dentists and Ph.D. researchers and clinical experts across many disciplines. The NIH Clinical Center only provides care for research subjects; non-research patients are not admitted to the center. This means that the environment is completely oriented toward clinical research. The resources of the NIH Clinical Center make it the ideal environment in which to develop skills in translational research.
Intramural research laboratories at NIH also have unique attributes. Because the research is primarily reviewed in a retrospective manner, high-risk and innovative research is encouraged and rewarded. In addition, the research environment encourages collaboration among investigators of many different institutes, allowing cross-fertilization of ideas from disparate disciplines. Participants will thus have the opportunity to work with a wide range of talented and creative scientists.
Candidates Eligible for PSDP
We seek the brightest, most talented individuals who can sketch out a vision of a research program. The candidates should be able to demonstrate outstanding credentials, though it is not necessary to demonstrate specific prior research skills. We seek individuals who have the strongest desire to do research, are talented and insightful clinicians, and can identify a relevant research topic. It is the goal of the program to provide them with the tools to succeed in the design and execution of the research project. We expect that the applicants will be board certified or board eligible in an ACGME specialty or subspecialty. Although clinical genetics is the most closely related medical specialty to genomic science, we seek individuals from any and all specialties where the applicant can make the case that the field of genomics is relevant to clinical questions in that specialty. It is our opinion that genomics is relevant to all specialties.
Interested candidates may apply to the program either before completing their fellowship program in a medical or surgical subspecialty or medical genetics residency or at any time up to five years after completing their postgraduate training. Exceptional candidates will be considered who have completed (or will have completed at the time of entry to the program) a primary care residency (e.g., internal medicine, pediatrics, etc.) We encourage applications from all specialties.
NIH Tenure Track Eligibility
Successful completion of the PSDP is not a guarantee of a tenure track faculty appointment at the NHGRI or another NIH institute. All tenure track positions in the intramural NIH program are filled following a national search and with the concurrence of the scientific director of the institute and the deputy director of intramural research. However, the NHGRI intramural program intends to expand its translational research program and there is a shortage of suitably trained physicians for the foreseeable future. Any participant who completes the PSDP should be extremely competitive for these positions, either within the NIH intramural program or at other academic medical research institutions eager to hire talented physician scientists.
The program provides an extremely generous set of resources that maximize the chance of success for the participants. This support includes: a competitive salary for the participant, support for a full time laboratory technician, and part-time support from a clinical research coordinator as well as office and laboratory space for the participant. Adequate budget for laboratory reagents and supplies as well as for clinical research costs for the human subjects. Reasonable travel costs for attendance at scientific meetings, journal subscriptions, etc., are also provided. This generous package is provided prospectively and is stable given reasonable progress of the research, so the participants will spend essentially no time securing funding for their work.
Applicants should submit:
- A curriculum vita.
- A brief letter of interest.
- A letter of recommendation from the director of their most recent clinical training program (usually the fellowship program director) to the director of the PSDP program, listed below.
Suitable applicants will be contacted to discuss the program, and a subset of those applicants will be invited to NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, to meet with the faculty of the institute to further discuss the program. Tentative acceptance to the program will be offered to qualified applicants at which point they should identify a mentor and begin to design the research project. Final acceptance into the program will be offered upon receipt of a written proposal prepared by the applicant with the assistance and concurrence of the mentor.
The deadline for applications is October 31 of the year preceding the typical July 1 starting date.
The NIH is an equal opportunity employer and encourages applications from women and minorities.
Applications and questions regarding the Physician Scientist Development Program should be addressed to:
Leslie Biesecker, M.D.
Director, Physician Scientist Development Program
Building 49, Room 4A80
49 Convent Drive, MSC 4472
Bethesda, MD 20892-4472
Phone: (301) 402-2041
Fax: (301) 402-2170
Last Reviewed: May 7, 2012