UNC receives grant to support young physician scientists

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists aims to address potential burnout of young doctors who have substantial research and extra-professional responsibilities.

UNC receives grant to support young physician scientists click to enlarge Susan Girdler, PhD, and Amelia Drake, MD

Media contact: Mark Derewicz, 984-974-1915, mark.derewicz@unchealth.unc.edu

January 6, 2016

CHAPEL HILL, NC – The University of North Carolina School of Medicine received a grant for $540,000 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) to help early-career physician-scientists continue their patient-centered research amid extraprofessional caregiving demands.

DDCF created the Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists as part of its mission to improve the quality of people’s lives through medical research. It awarded a total of $5.4 million to 10 schools to be paid over five years to provide stronger institutional support and supplemental funds to early career physician-scientists to maintain productivity during periods of excessive demands on the job and at home.

“We are grateful to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for this important grant,” said Amelia Drake, MD, a co-principal investigator of the grant. “We will use it to find more and better ways to support our younger colleagues.”

Early in their careers, physicians and scientists are vulnerable to an increased risk for burnout, caused by prolonged periods of high work demands, low resources, and work-home interference, leading to exhaustion, diminished professional efficacy, and increased job turnover.

Studies have revealed that up to 44 percent of young physicians with full-time faculty appointments at academic medical schools leave their posts within 10 years. Furthermore, while women enter academic medical centers at about the same rate as men, they make up only 19 percent of faculty at the full professor level. The causes of this disparity are varied and complex, but one contributing factor is the load of transitory but significant outside responsibilities, such as childcare, elder care, or family illness that may arise and preclude the career growth of many young faculty members, particularly women.

The UNC School of Medicine will use the funds to create a new program, Caregivers at Carolina: Support for Physician-Scientists. It will help UNC’s early-career physician-scientists as they balance research and caregiving responsibilities by improving mentoring and addressing time demands and psychosocial needs.

Participants in Caregivers at Carolina will work with “Taking Care of Our Own,” another UNC program that addresses burnout stress by providing education, confidential support, advice, and professional referral. Caregivers at Carolina will also create a new postpartum/adoption peer-support initiative.

In addition, the DDCF funds will go toward building a website that consolidates information about existing resources at UNC for childcare and elder care. The website will be one point of entry to both “Caregivers at Carolina” and “Taking Care of Our Own.”

In addition, a few participants in “Caregivers at Carolina” will be selected as scholars to receive funding to hire a research assistant, to buy out of clinical time, to conduct data analysis, or to produce grant writing or editing.

“This grant means we can support the research activities of physician-scientists who are facing extraprofessional caregiving responsibilities,” said Susan Girdler, PhD, co-principal investigator of the DDCF grant. “This is a gender-neutral program that provides monetary support to help reduce the physician’s workload and facilitate research progress during a transitory period (1 – 2 years) when caregiving demands are highest.”

Examining work-life issues among physician-scientists makes the UNC School of Medicine among the first academic medical schools in the country to be able to acknowledge, in a meaningful way, the lived experiences of medical professionals. 

“Our faculty members are not just workers, but also mothers, fathers, spouses, and children who have the right to be able to care for their loved ones without jeopardizing their research careers,” Girdler said. “Although the program can only provide the monetary support for 1 – 2 physicians per year, its other elements will be available to all qualifying applicants.”

Amelia Drake, MD, is the Newton D. Fischer Distinguished Professor of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery at the UNC School of Medicine. Susan Girdler, PhD, is a professor of psychiatry and psychology, and the director of the Stress & Health Research Program at the UNC School of Medicine.

The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is to improve the quality of people’s lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research, and child well-being, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke’s properties. The foundation’s Medical Research Program supports clinical research that advances the translation of biomedical discoveries into new preventions, diagnoses and treatments for human diseases. To learn more about the program, visit www.ddcf.org

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