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In Academic medicine : journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges

PURPOSE : Physician-scientists have long been considered an endangered species, and their extended training pathway is vulnerable to disruptions. This study investigated the effects of COVID-19-related challenges on the personal lives, career activities, stress levels, and research productivity of physician-scientist trainees and faculty.

METHOD : The authors surveyed medical students (MS), graduate students (GS), residents/fellows (R/F), and faculty (F) using a tool distributed to 120 U.S. institutions with MD-PhD programs in April-June 2020. Chi-squared and Fisher's exact tests were used to compare differences between groups. Machine learning was employed to select variables for multivariate logistic regression analyses aimed at identifying factors associated with stress and impaired productivity.

RESULTS : The analyses included 1,929 respondents (MS: n = 679, 35%; GS: n = 676, 35%; R/F: n = 274, 14%; F: n = 300, 16%). All cohorts reported high levels of social isolation, stress from effects of the pandemic, and negative impacts on productivity. R/F and F respondents were more likely than MS and GS respondents to report financial difficulties due to COVID-19. R/F and F respondents with a dual degree expressed more impaired productivity compared to those without a dual degree. Multivariate regression analyses identified impacted research/scholarly activities, financial difficulties, and social isolation as predictors of stress and impaired productivity for both MS and GS cohorts. For both R/F and F cohorts, impacted personal life and research productivity were associated with stress, while dual-degree status, impacted research/scholarly activities, and impacted personal life were predictors of impaired productivity. More female than male respondents reported increased demands at home.

CONCLUSIONS : This national survey of physician-scientist trainees and faculty found a high incidence of stress and impaired productivity related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding the challenges faced and their consequences may improve efforts to support the physician-scientist workforce in the post-pandemic period.

Kwan Jennifer M, Noch Evan, Qiu Yuqing, Toubat Omar, Christophers Briana, Azzopardi Stephanie, Gilmer Gabrielle, Wiedmeier Julia Erin, Daye Dania