By Katie Wendover
Each year, many young scientists pursue post-baccalaureate (postbac) positions at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to learn from pioneers in the field of clinical research. To provide postbacs with an opportunity to think critically about this profession, the NICHD Office of Education hosted a Q&A session on Monday, December 10, with Dr. Miranda Broadney, acting program director of the Pediatric Endocrine Fellowship Training Program in NICHD, and Dr. Stephanie Chung, assistant clinical investigator in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
The panelists began by describing their journeys into clinical research. Dr. Chung, a trained pediatric endocrinologist, said that she “really got the fire under [her]” when she decided to pursue research. The option of pursuing both a medical degree (MD) and doctor of philosophy (PhD) was somewhat limited, as the University of the West Indies (where she completed her post-graduate training) did not offer a dual degree program. However, she still dedicates a considerable amount of time to research—about 75% of her workday—while reserving the other 25% for clinical work.
Dr. Broadney, also a pediatric endocrinologist, wanted to help the community and desired medical training with an emphasis in clinical investigation. A master’s in public health and medical degree joint program at the Ohio State University College of Medicine allowed her to combine these passions. Dr. Broadney estimated that she dedicates around 90% of her time at work to research, as other fellows see many of the patients in the department. Outside of research activities, Dr. Broadney sees healthy volunteers in clinical trials on a weekly basis.
While both Drs. Chung and Broadney cited the logistics and time commitment of MD/PhD training as a consideration for not pursuing that degree themselves, Dr. Broadney emphasized that the extra time commitment should not discourage students from pursuing that route. Both Drs. Chung and Broadney agreed that medical fellows often must fight for their research to get off the ground, especially outside of the NIH.
So, how do these doctors balance their work with their personal lives? Dr. Broadney explained that her plans are constantly changing, saying that as a clinical researcher “your schedule is going to ebb and flow.” Despite the unpredictability of this lifestyle, Dr. Broadney stressed the importance of prioritizing time with your family and the need for a supportive community. Following up on that idea, Dr. Chung pointed out the benefits of a career in research, as it allows her to spend more time working from home. However, she emphasized that research does not constitute less work, “it’s just in a different venue.”
Wrapping up the session, Dr. Chung said that postbacs at the NIH are in the unique position to find what balance works for them. Overall, the successes of Drs. Broadney and Chung testify to the fact that multiple paths lead to success in clinical research. Dr. Chung captured this thought well, saying that postbacs “don’t have to figure out the [next] ten to twenty years,” but instead should remember to “have fun along the way.”