The balance among clinical care, education, and research is tilting toward clinical care.
Limited funding for research has resulted in little or no growth in the number of faculty in basic science departments.
The lack of long-term funding makes it difficult to build new programs.
Six Ways to Help Basic Science Departments Regain Vitality
Keeping basic science departments running optimally is a growing challenge, but experts say some things can be done to help them regain their strength. Here are six suggestions.
Support funding for the NIH. “There have been meaningful, greater-than-the-rate-of-inflation increases in the NIH budget each year since 2015,” Dr. McKinney said. “That has helped to heal the damage done by years of inadequate funding.” But schools of medicine will need to continue to support basic science financially, because NIH grants have never paid the full cost of basic science research. NIH funding is critical for basic science, and without it there won’t be the types of new ideas necessary for translation into novel clinical applications.
Form partnerships. Basic science departments can partner with industry and clinical departments to increase research portfolios that are closer to clinical implementation, which could open new funding sources, said Dr. Yarbrough. In addition, academic hospitals and centers within medical schools should continue to invest wisely in basic science departments.
Promote effective communication. Teach students to communicate their research to others in a clear, concise way. “We need the public (taxpayers) to understand what basic scientists do,” Dr. McKinney said. “Their support is necessary to sustain the basic science culture.”
Ask public relations offices to avoid hyped language. “Hype can ultimately hurt basic science departments,” Dr. McKinney said. “The public will lose trust in science if they’re constantly being bombarded with false claims like there’s a new cure for cancer. When taxpayers lose their faith, funding will dry up.”
Train doctors of philosophy to be flexible. “Don’t just train doctors of philosophy to be the next generation of faculty, train them to be the next generation of researchers for whatever environment they may find themselves, such as academia, industry, or government,” Dr. McKinney said.
Help develop better pathways for junior investigators. “We need to make it easier to have a good career in basic science,” Dr. McKinney added. “This means that schools need to provide adequate resources to financially support junior faculty until they’re able to get federal grant funding.”