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Encouraging Students in Research Is an Encouraging Investment

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of the ASA Monitor.

The Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research (FAER) created the Medical Student Anesthesia Research Fellowship (MSARF) Summer Program in 2005. By providing fellowships to medical students with an interest in anesthesiology and research, FAER aims to expand the scientific talent in the specialty. This is an important aim for anesthesiology for three reasons: 1) The number of physician-scientists has been steadily declining; 2) Anesthesiology has been historically underrepresented in NIH funding; and 3) Less than 20 percent of medical students are interested in research as a career.1,5 These factors, when combined, make it especially competitive for anesthesiologists to receive the level of funding required to have careers as independent investigators, and even more challenging to create new knowledge that advances medicine.

FAER’s MSARF Program is designed as a pathway to a career in academic anesthesiology and to future funding from FAER and other organizations. It provides funding to support students over a summer in focusing on anesthesiology research, training in scientific methods and techniques, and learning how to incorporate research into a medical career. The fellowships are completed over an eight-week time period during which students who have completed their first, second or third years of medical school are paired with an anesthesiologist physician-scientist in an academic anesthesia department. During the fellowship, students participate in anesthesia research projects alongside their mentors and then present their research at the ANESTHESIOLOGY® annual meeting during the MSARF Symposium.

Although FAER has received anecdotal evidence of the program’s success, MSARF had never been formally assessed until recently. A study in the May 2016 issue of Anesthesiology examined 346 medical students (out of 465) who participated in the MSARF Program between 2005 and 2014.5 The paper is called “Evaluation of the Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research Medical Student Anesthesia Research Fellowship Program Participants’ Scholarly Activity and Career Choices” and is authored by Paloma Toledo, M.D., M.P.H., Shakir McLean, M.D., Lorent Duce, M.D., Cynthia Wong, M.D., Armin Schubert, M.D., M.B.A., and Denham S. Ward, M.D., Ph.D.

The authors conducted the assessment to determine the research productivity (publication success) of MSARF participants, to determine the percentage of MSARF participants who entered anesthesiology residencies after medical school, and to determine whether the percentage entering anesthesiology varied among students who participated in MSARF and those who applied but were not accepted into the program. Here is what they found:

  • The publication success rate for Medical Student Anesthesia Research Fellowship projects is 42 percent.
  • Thirty percent of all MSARF awardees have been co-authors on a publication.
  • More than half (58 percent) of MSARF participants have matched into an anesthesiology residency program. This is significantly higher than the enrollment rate for those who were not accepted into MSARF.

The study indicates that medical students who participate in anesthesiology research fellowships funded by FAER are likely to enter an anesthesiology residency after graduation. “The MSARF program likely attracts students who are already interested in a career in anesthesiology; however, participation in the MSARF program significantly increases the likelihood of entering an anesthesiology-training program” the study states.

Overall, MSARF provides a positive experience for medical students. In the conclusion of the paper, the authors state, “The MSARF Program, and similar programs, may be one strategy to help increase the number of physician-scientists in anesthesiology.” It is gratifying to see that this initial analysis of outcomes shows a positive impact. Although long-term follow-up remains to be done, these initial results documenting the return on FAER’s investment are very encouraging.

1. Rosenberg LE The physician-scientist: an essential – and fragile – link in the medical research chain. J Clin Invest. 1999;103(12):1621–1626. [Article] [PubMed]
2. Garrison HH, Deschamps AM NIH research funding and early career physician scientists: continuing challenges in the 21st century. FASEB J. 2014;28(3):1049–1058. [Article] [PubMed]
3. Schwinn DA, Balser, JR Anesthesiology physician scientists in academic medicine: a wake-up call. Anesthesiology. 2006;104(1):170–178. [Article] [PubMed]
4. Garrison HH, Deschamps AM . NIH research funding and early career physician scientists: continuing challenges in the 21st century. FASEB J. 2014;28(3):1049–1058. [Article] [PubMed]
5. Toledo P, McLean S, Duce L, Wong CA, Schubert A, Ward DS Evaluation of the Foundation for Anesthesia Education and research Medical Student Anesthesia Research Fellowship program participants’ scholarly activity and career choices [published online ahead of print March 1, 2016]. Anesthesiology. doi:10.1097/ALN.0000000000001068