Young academic cardiologists face career challenges, according to new paper

April 15, 2014 – DCRI Fellow Tariq Ahmad, MD, MPH, and his colleagues suggested a course of action for improving the career prospects of researchers beginning a career in academic cardiology.

The traditional career path of the academic cardiologist in the United States has become imperiled, according to an article published recently in the online edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The article, written by the DCRI’s Tariq Ahmad, MD, MPH, and colleagues from across the country, reveals the results of a survey conducted by the American College of Cardiology (ACC).

tariq-ahmad-archiveBecause heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States and 40 percent of Americans will develop some form of cardiovascular disease by 2030, there is a considerable need for academic cardiologists. Despite this growing need, early-career academic cardiologists (defined as those who are within 10 years of completion of a cardiology fellowship training program) often find themselves challenged to remain in academia and must consider a transition to non-academic practice.

Cuts in research support, pending cuts in graduate medical education, and the decline in reimbursements for clinical activities have come together to create a “perfect storm” that threatens the future health and health care of the nation, according to the authors. Left unchecked, this present course will render the nation ill-equipped to meet its rapidly expanding health care needs.

The ACC recently conducted an online survey of its early-career membership. The majority (85 percent) of early-career academic professionals actively sought an academic position. Top reasons included an academic environment (81 percent), a desire to teach (70 percent), and interaction/exposure to diverse disciplines and new ideas (70 percent). Approximately two-thirds (64 percent) indicated a desire to conduct research as a motivation to seek out an academic position.

However, respondents also identified multiple obstacles to this career path. A majority pointed to lack of time (78 percent), unstable funding (73 percent), burdensome regulatory compliance (72 percent), and insufficient support from a home institution (52 percent). The vast majority (91 percent) reported insufficient external funding, which is a major challenge for progression into a stable academic career.

Ahmad and his colleagues made several suggestions for addressing these issues, including improving fellowship training to include more emphasis on proposal writing, proficiency in specialized research skills, and completion of transferable products; developing partnerships between university systems and clinical entities to support cardiologists’ training; and seeking increased investment in graduate medical education.