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Transforming how we support the next generation of clinician scientists

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by Cancer Research UK | Research Feature

12 May 2019

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We’re providing £50.7m over five years through our Clinical Academic Training Programme Award to overhaul training for clinician scientists. With the support of the Award, our Centres will offer early career clinician scientists greater flexibility and a wider range of career pathways, while providing training of the highest quality.

Clinician scientists are a valued group in our research community – they bridge the gap between bench and bedside, and play a pivotal role in translating discovery into clinical use. Training early career clinician scientists is therefore important to us. We want to support the next generation of clinical academic leaders and nurture our clinician scientist community.

 “We realised we had to reconsider our clinical academic training model,” explains Dr Iain Foulkes, our Executive Director of Research and Innovation at CRUK. “We were seeing significant attrition along our clinical academic career pathway, particularly among female researchers. This reflects a UK-wide trend in the decline in the number of clinical academic staff, especially at senior level.”


Our new programmatic approach will not only help us stem the tide of attrition – it will enable us to train the best people in the best labs.

Dr Iain Foulkes, Executive Director, Research & Innovation, CRUK


Our Clinical Academic Training Programme Award aims to address issues in our previous model head-on. The Award will support our Centres to attract and retain early career clinical academic researchers by offering a greater variety of training options and providing holistic support before, during and after training. This includes a structured mentorship plan, funding and access to a growing clinical academic network between Centres.


Clinical researchers play a vital role in helping us achieve our mission of seeing 3 in 4 people survive cancer within the next 20 years. Our new clinical academic training model will give early career clinician scientists the right combination of flexibility and support to flourish as future clinical research leaders.

Prof Charles Swanton, Chief Clinician, CRUK


A key development is the introduction of the MB PhD training route, enabling aspiring clinician scientists to undertake the vocational training of a medical degree in tandem with the research expertise of a PhD.

Currently, most UK trainee clinician scientists take on a PhD after completing their initial medical training, often in their thirties, which corresponds with the time of life when many women are having children. In the US, where the American equivalent of the MB PhD has been established for over 50 years, 70 per cent of women who take on an MD PhD stay in research after graduation.[1]

Furthermore, we want to ensure that would-be clinician scientists are not excluded from this career path because they can’t afford to take on a PhD: under the MB/PhD programme, we’re absorbing £10,000 per annum in fees faced by students to undertake a five-year medical degree.

Our move to bolster training for clinician scientists reflects a wider national agenda: the government’s Strategy for Life Sciences vows to put clinical research at the heart of innovation in the NHS, enabling translation to the clinic and driving improved patient outcomes.

We’re pleased to work with our Centres to make a meaningful difference to training for clinician scientists, ensuring that the next generation of clinician scientists – irrespective of gender and socioeconomic background – are given the best possible support to take the lead in driving forward patient impact.

[1] Harding CV, Akabas MH, Andersen OS. History and outcomes of 50 years of physician-scientist training in medical scientist training programs. Acad Med. 2017; 92(10): 1390-1398.


Dr Karen Noble
Head of Research Careers
Research & Innovation, CRUK