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About Seema Kacker and Justin Lowenthal

Seema Kacker is a seventh-year MD-PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins University. Seema recently completed her PhD in health economics, with a focus on consumer behavior in the context of zero pricing. She is a senior fellow on the corporate partnerships/business development team at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures and an ambassador for Breakout Labs, a philanthropic fund focused on investing in early-stage, deep-science companies. She is currently completing her third year of medical school. Prior to the MD-PhD program, Seema completed a bachelor of science in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab in rural India.

Justin Lowenthal is a seventh-year MD-PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins University. His PhD research is in biomedical engineering and centers on using stem cells, genetics, developmental biology, and tissue engineering techniques to model cardiac development and genetic heart disease. Prior to medical school, Justin completed a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Yale University and a certificate in bioethics at the National Institutes of Health. He has been heavily involved in medical student leadership as well as health policy and social justice advocacy work, frequently contributing to op-eds and policy discussions around emerging biotechnologies and the pricing of prescription drugs in Washington, D.C.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

  • Increasingly, MD-PhD graduates are pursuing postgraduate clinical training and careers with an increased focus on clinical medicine.

  • While much of the research conducted by physician-scientists continues to be basic and translational biomedical research, a growing number pursue research in public health, social sciences, and humanities.

  • “Habitats” of physician-scientists are becoming more varied; while many report expecting to pursue full-time academic positions, transitions to industry, government, consulting, and other nonacademic paths later in careers are becoming more common.

  • Clinical specialties being pursued by physician-scientists, and with it the associated research questions impacting clinical care, are becoming more diverse, with increasing numbers choosing to train outside of typical internal medicine, pediatrics, pathology, or neurology paths and within more procedural specialties.

  • The MD-PhD pool is becoming more demographically diverse. This diversity in background and appearance brings with it a diversity in the types of research questions being asked. Furthermore, the breadth of these research questions has expanded the scope of possible physician-scientist careers.

Introduction

Historically, physician-scientist programs have aimed to produce academic physicians who effectively combine basic science research with clinical practice. The motivation behind this particular combination was that each component would naturally benefit the other. Research conducted by these physicians would be informed by their clinical experience and ability to identify gaps in our capacity to care for patients, and would in turn allow them to provide better patient care and advance our capacity to treat disease and care for patients with new insights and better technology.

In recent years, however, the proportion of graduates from these programs ...

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