Background: Concerns have been expressed 'that the physician-researcher is a dying breed'. As yet there are few Australian data. Aims: To compare over time: (i) research progress of Sydney Medical School (SMS) medical practitioner - PhD awardees; (ii) National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project grant success rates for physician-researchers; and (iii) compare current NHMRC, NSW University and NSW Public Hospital pay scales for physician-researchers. Methods: We evaluated 303 medical practitioners awarded a University of Sydney/SMS PhD in 1989-2012 and their publications. We assessed 1990-2014 NHMRC grants to physicians and non-physicians (nationally) and compared physician salaries from NHMRC, the University of Sydney and NSW public hospitals. Results: SMS PhD completions by clinicians increased ≈2.4-fold since 1989, with a recent decline, whilst non-medical PhD awardees rose 10-fold. The median time of PhD award after medical degree completion was stable at 13 years. A lower percentage of the more recent physician-researchers had completed specialty training at PhD award (34% in 2011-2012 vs 71% in 1989-1990, P = 0.017). Publication rates were stable, but low. Although NHMRC funding increased >10-fold since 1990, national project grant success rates declined (35% in 1990, 17% in 2013 and 15% in 2014, P < 0.0001), with physician-led funded grants declining from 29% in 1989 to 21% in 2013, P = 0.002. Current NHMRC and University salaries are less than comparable-stage public hospital salaries. Conclusion: Since 1989, more medical graduates are completing SMS PhDs, although more often prior to completing clinical Fellowships, and many have ongoing, albeit low, research activity. Nationally NHMRC project grant success rates have declined significantly, as has the proportion of funded physician-led projects. Medical practitioner salaries from NHMRC and from Universities are less than in public hospitals. The Australian physician-researcher is at-risk. Knowledge and actions are needed to protect our medical research capacity.
- Occupational group
- Research personnel