For over seven years, the Doris Duke Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists (DDFRCS) has supported early-career physician scientists at Washington University School of Medicine facing extraprofessional challenges due to childbearing, family or health issues at a critical phase of their careers. This program was launched in 2015, when the School of Medicine was selected as part of a cohort of U.S. medical schools identified in an open, peer-reviewed competition to administer flexible research funds to eligible faculty and to participate in an independent evaluation of this intervention.
The DDFRCS program at the School of Medicine is open to physician-scientists who are conducting NIH, government or foundation-sponsored clinical research on a biomedical challenge. A call for applications is submitted twice a year and applications are reviewed by a panel of senior faculty clinical researchers. Awarded scholars typically use funds for technical or other research assistance to help with the daily research tasks to move their studies along. Others use funds to buy out clinic time, so they can concentrate more on research.
In November 2021, Washington University School of Medicine was named one of 22 medical schools selected to receive additional grant funding aimed at helping medical schools retain clinical scientists in light of challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Developed by The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, along with the American Heart Association, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the John Templeton Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation, and the Walder Foundation, the COVID-19 Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists (FRCS) competition supports biomedical researchers faced with growing family caregiving responsibilities exacerbated by the pandemic.
This collaborative funding effort for equity in biomedicine is providing grants of $500,000 over two years to each of the awarded U.S. medical schools and their affiliated hospitals. The institutions receiving the funds, including the School of Medicine, are charged with building programs that provide support to eligible faculty who are experiencing periods of caregiving crisis.
This new program builds upon the promising outcomes of the existing DDFRCS program. “The COVID-19 FRCS will support the strengthening of policies, practices and processes at U.S. medical schools to advance the research productivity and retention of early-career faculty experiencing mushrooming family caregiving responsibilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the collaborative funding group announced in a news release.
The program officially launched at the School of Medicine with a call for applications released in late November 2021. Eligible faculty submitted applications complete with details for how funds will help maintain their scientific productivity in the face of extraprofessional personal demands due to COVID-19.
Following a review of applicants, the School of Medicine funded six scholars for a 2-3 year grant cycle. A review committee consisted of 16 senior faculty members across multiple departments plus co-directors Victoria Fraser, MD, Bess Marshall, MD and Deborah Rubin, MD.
“This is a truly unique program that meets the pressing needs of early career physician-scientists whose professional lives were impacted by COVID-19 and the accompanying family caregiving stressors involved with the pandemic,” comments Victoria Fraser, MD, Chair, Department of Medicine and co-director of the DDFRCS at Washington University. “It allows the School of Medicine to provide direct support for increased protected research time, technical assistance, and career development opportunities, thereby helping our faculty members continue to cultivate their careers despite the unique extraprofessional challenges of the last two years.”
Patrick Lyons, MD, MSCI and recent DDCFRCS scholar reflects, “The DDCFRCS award has been extraordinarily helpful for maintaining productivity amidst numerous extraprofessional challenges. In particular, the award flexibility is a HUGE strength.”
In addition to funding support, both DDFRCS and DDCFRCS scholars:
- Participate in quarterly luncheons with invited speakers that present on a career development topic.
- Participate in an annual spring meeting where scholars have the opportunity to present their research and receive feedback from DDFRCS directors, selection committee members, their mentors, and scholar colleagues.
- Receive resources and information about upcoming seminars that may be of interest to them.
Letters of intent are accepted on a rolling basis for the Doris Duke Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists. Learn more about the application process here.
I have been able to connect with several other researchers whom I met through the DDFRCS award. These work relationships have been very valuable in terms of networking, sharing information on institutional resources, mentorship experiences, and potential collaborations for future projects.Alejandro Camacho-Soto, MD
The DDFRCS award allowed us to hire a technician who will be instrumental for new papers and first R01 grant application this year. It is incredibly affirming to be supported by both our institution and the Doris Duke Foundation at this critical stage of my career. I look forward to interacting with other DDFRCS scholars at our institution for the scientific and professional camaraderie.Jing Hughes, MD, PhD
I am incredibly grateful to the DDFRCS for facilitating research coordinator support for my ongoing independent research efforts. This program has enabled me to accelerate my research productivity and be prepared to submit my first NIH R01 proposal in March 2022, all despite unexpected extraprofessional demands and the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you.Abby Cheng, MD