Council Perspective Offers Advice on NIH Awards

The training of cardiovascular physician-scientists, while challenging, is imperative for advancements in health care, according to a Council Perspective from ACC’s Academic Cardiology Section Leadership Council and the Early Career Section Leadership Council, published Oct. 12 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. In the paper, the authors reflect on the current state of National Institutes of Health (NIH) career development (K) awards and give guidance to those applying.

A K-award is a mentored career development award that is often pursued after fellowship training for a career in independent research. The objectives of the career development awards are to not only to accomplish scientific advancements, but also to further the development of the investigator. Between 2005 and 2014, there has been a substantial decline in applications for NIH K-awards and data show that the pool of early-career cardiovascular physician-scientists is getting smaller. During this time frame, success rates for applicants have ranged from 20 percent to 40 percent, with an increase from 2009 to 2010 due to greater funding. The Councils write that prospective applicants may be discouraged by decreased funding or may be drawn to options not funded by NIH.

The Councils continue that successful K-award applicants “are able to provide a compelling case for their likelihood to develop into an independent investigator, but there is no precise mold into which one must fit.” They add that it is important for the candidate to show commitment to and a passion for research in addition to a strong potential for achieving independence. Furthermore, their research plan “must demonstrate scientific merit, appropriateness for career stage and opportunities for obtaining new research skills.” The plan must also find the appropriate balance between innovation and feasibility. Finally, it is important for the candidate to have a strong mentor as well as a clear commitment from their institution.

Lastly, the Councils reflect on the importance of cardiovascular physician-scientists in the advancement of medical knowledge and development of new therapeutic approaches. They write that it is important to encourage trainees and junior faculty to obtain career development awards. They conclude that “the nurturing of talented, capable and sufficiently equipped cardiovascular physician-scientists remains an indispensable priority. Shortcuts in this training mission will lead to an inability to make sustained advances in the years ahead.” 

Keywords: Awards and Prizes, Faculty, Fellowships and Scholarships, Leadership, Mentors, National Institutes of Health (U.S.), Physicians

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