Clinical Research: More than an extension of patient care

Apr 24 2014 Published by under Research issues

When I started my first faculty appointment, I planned to have a lab. My techniques could be performed on human or animal specimens, so I could move between the worlds of clinical and basic science research with ease. I got a fairly standard deal for the time - 70% protected time for the lab. By the time you realize that all vacation and meetings come out of that protected time, as does the paperwork and documentation that accompanies clinical practice, that protection really only gives you about half of your time. In my case, that was enough, at least until the NIH budget collapsed in the Great Recession.

Recently, I have heard of new clinicians trying to set up clinical research programs. Now, clinical research does involve patients, but it is not merely an extension of patient care. Clinical research is something completely outside of the realm of usual care. I have seen assistant professors with only 30% protected time written into their contracts to develop a clinical research career! Clinical research also requires as much support as a bench lab. Sure, I needed space and all sorts of expensive equipment for my work; however, I could analyze a rat experiment myself and control a lot of variables. When people get involved, all control flies out the window. This means more statistical support up front in the design phase of a study, as well as more analysis to help control for those unanticipated things that make all studies flawed in some way.

I once pointed this out to a chair who said that if they got a grant with salary support then they could have more protected time. Yes, those grants find their way to deserving faculty who have no time carved out to develop a track record and publications...

I find it disturbing that we set junior faculty up for failure this way, with incredibly unrealistic expectations.

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