The past few years in NIH-funded research land have been peppered liberally with cries for "translational" research. The notion is that while the prior decades of research have been excellent at generating basic science observations, progress in using this information to improve health care has been insufficient. The reaction, of course, has been to revamp the NIH funding to try and enhance the degree to which research directly related to improved health care is supported. This has had the dual results of irritating basic scientists and revealing a rather spotty infrastructure of available physicians who also do biomedical research.
Apparently one basic biomedical research institution has decided to enthusiastically back this translational trend by starting a medical school devoted entirely to physician researchers.
One of my agents passed on this article from the San Diego Union Tribune:
The Scripps Research Institute and Scripps Health are working to set up what they hope will be the nation's first medical school entirely geared to training physicians for dual careers in research and patient care.
The coordinators, who plan to accept their inaugural group of students in 2013, would make the Scripps School of Medicine the county's first new medical school in 40 years.
They want to receive final accreditation for their school by 2018. Nationally, only one new medical school - at Florida State University - has been fully accredited in the past 20 years, said Dr. Dan Hunt, secretary of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education in Washington, D.C.
Wait a second. Back up. We have this apparent healthcare crisis. A shortage of doctors and nurses in certain key specialties and geographic regions. A plethora of bright faced young undergrads agonizing about not getting into medical school.
And this monopolistic cabal of medical educators has managed to hold off any new schools for four decades?[Ed- As writedit noted in the comments, I originally misread "county" as "country". My bad. Still, one in 20 years? That doesn't sound all that great either. Nice to see at the end of the SD Union Trib article that there are 9 new schools in the process of accreditation.]
Ahem. Okay, back to the point. Are they serious about this?
Topol said the institute has hired Cary Thomas to help establish the program. Thomas was formerly vice dean for finance and operations for the medical school at the University of Southern California.
Several weeks ago, Scripps institute officials paid the liaison committee a $25,000 fee to file its accreditation application. The committee, which requires all medical school applicants to meet 133 standards in five lengthy phases, will visit the facility early next month for the first phase.
Well, that seems reasonably serious.
Do we need this? After all, plenty of really top notch Medical School / Research University institutions already have physician-scientist programs. The much vaunted MD/PhD or MSTP training. Admittedly, the graduates that I know best tend to be more researchers than they do practicing clinicians. It is rare, again in my limited experience, that an individual active PI will really wed his or her medical practice to the research program.
Perhaps this is why a new and dedicated approach is needed? Or is it a suggestion that the enterprise is doomed to fail?
Update 4/2/08: Hmm. Now Nature is on the story with the angle that applicants to this proposed medical school will have to have a Master's degree in hand.