Physician researchers ‘breed’? Start with the freshmen

More doctors are needed who choose the combination of clinical work and scientific research. This is what PhD candidate Belinda Ommering (LUMC) writes in her thesis ‘Future physician-scientists: let’s catch them young!’ which she recently defended.

In her thesis, Ommering investigates how to increase the number of medical researchers in the early years of medical studies. For example, a scientific publication during the study turned out to be a precursor. Students who had achieved this were more likely to publish one or more articles in the six years after graduation and with a slightly greater citation impact than their unpublished peers. For this study, Ommering went through the data of more than four thousand medical students who graduated from one of the eight medical faculties between 2005 and 2008.

That is why it is important that medical students are given the opportunity to gain research experience early in their education, writes Ommering. This also ties in with the needs of the students themselves, according to a survey among 316 first-year medical students at the LUMC. To study whether strong motivation actually led to action, Ommering took the questionnaire again a year later. Fifty-five students are now engaged in research via the Leiden honors program or an extracurricular research outside that programme. The distinguishing factor turned out to be intrinsic motivation, while extrinsic motivation – such as the chance of a training place – hardly mattered.

How that works in a later phase of the doctor’s career is beyond the scope of her thesis. In 2018, however, a major study by the Rathenau Institute showed that 90 percent of PhDs in the field of ‘health’ found their PhDs especially valuable in increasing the chance of a specialist training position.

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