Medical Students: Career Profiles
Dr. Michel Melamed - Clinical Researcher
Clinical researchers perform the studies that help shape nephrology clinical practice. Some clinical researchers are on a tenure research track at their academic institution, meaning that they are expected to obtain outside grant support and have protected time for their research (75-80%). Most clinical researchers on the tenure track obtain advanced degrees, such as Master or Doctorate level degrees during their fellowships, to be able to perform large epidemiologic studies and clinical trials. This advanced training in biostatistics and epidemiology helps clinical researchers to better design studies, analyze their own research and obtain extramural research funding. Many clinicians perform clinical research in addition to their clinical responsibilities but are not expected to obtain extramural grant funding and may or may not have obtained additional research training. Some medical schools have a clinician-educator track, in which clinicians are expected to have some scholarly activity but not as much as physicians on the clinical research tenure-track. Individuals must evaluate their own institution's policies regarding expectations about the number of publications and grant funding for the different tracks.
A day in the life of a tenure-track clinical investigator may involve any of the following: 1) meeting with other members of the research team, i.e. biostatisticians, graduate students, etc. to discuss results of analyses and the next research steps; 2) writing research results and grants; 3) meeting with research coordinators to discuss participant recruitment and retention in clinical studies; 4) submitting Institutional Review Board proposals and progress reports; 5) peer review of manuscripts and grants; and 6) budgeting and planning current and future grant funding. As a junior investigator, the focus is on obtaining a first grant. Once that is achieved, a solid publication record is the key to future grant funding and promotion. For a more senior investigator, publications are still important, but as a senior author, the role evolves to editing rather than primarily writing manuscripts. At all points, writing grants is important and may involve sleepless nights for investigators who work best at the last minute. Most tenure track clinical researchers have clinical responsibilities that may include 1-3 months on the inpatient service, a dialysis shift, 1-2 half day clinics per week or some combination of the above. Clinicians who also do research but do not have extramural grant funding must find time in their busy days to perform research.
In some ways, tenure-track clinical investigators may have more flexibility with their time compared to clinicians and may have an easier time with work-life balance. It is easier to cancel and re-schedule a meeting with a statistician or research coordinator than with a panel full of patients when a child is sick at home. One can also work on manuscripts and grants at home after children go to sleep. However, there is potentially also more travel for tenure-track clinical researchers than for clinicians, such as traveling to national meetings and to other academic institutions to promote one's research.