Medical schools voice concerns over the drop in the clinical academic workforce
New data published by the Medical Schools Council show that the clinical academic workforce, doctors who undertake teaching and research alongside treating patients, has aged significantly over the last decade. Clinical academics (CAs) aged over 55 made up just over one third of the workforce (35%) in 2021 compared to just under one fifth (18%) in 2005.
Clinical academics are widely recognised for their role in training the future doctors of tomorrow and helping to lead the UK’s health research, including treatments and vaccines for Covid-19. From the RECOVERY trial to the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, the UK has demonstrated how clinical research can help to provide timely, evidence-based treatments for patients. However, the ageing clinical academic workforce presents a serious impediment to the Government’s vision for the future of clinical research delivery, as the data indicate that a large proportion of clinical academics are approaching retirement. This also poses a risk to the medical training pathway as clinical academics, who are employed by both universities and the NHS, are needed to train future doctors. Without reinforcing this pipeline, expanding the number of medical school places becomes a greater challenge.
The clinical academic workforce saw growth during the years 2006 to 2010 when interventions to increase the workforce began to take effect, including the implementation of the NIHR Integrated Academic Training Pathway in 2005/6 which nurtured the expansion of early clinical academic career Lecturer grades. Following this, Lecturer grades have seen a 25% increase between 2011 and 2021. In marked contrast, Reader/Senior Lecturer grades have experienced a 25% decline.
While the survey highlights the need to consider the impact of an ageing workforce, it also indicates that greater attention is needed to the gender and ethnic imbalances that persist in clinical academia. BME clinical academics remain underrepresented, contributing one fifth of the FTE.
Similarly, male clinical academics continue to predominate in all three academic grades, representing 65% of the workforce, although there have been increases in female clinical academic numbers across all levels (an 81% increase in Professors, 7% increase in Readers and 63% increase in Lecturers). Despite these gains, women are still underrepresented in senior posts.
Nearly 25 years after the first report on the disincentives to clinical academic careers, the academic workforce is facing new and emerging challenges. Medical schools have reported difficulties in recruiting to specialties with declining numbers of clinical academics, such as psychiatry and pathology.
The Clinical Academic Training Forum was established in 2018 to bring together stakeholders interested in the training of clinical academics to provide strategic coordination of clinical academic training pathways in the UK. Following extensive consultation, the forum has recently launched the Clinical Academic Training and Careers Hub to better support healthcare professionals in pursuing and continuing in careers as clinical academics.
Professor Patrick Maxwell, Chair of the Medical Schools Council, said:
“The UK is still a long way from ensuring that there are enough posts for clinical academics, and that there is appropriate progression from junior to more senior positions. Preventing bottlenecks from emerging in the number of positions for mid-career clinical academics is critical to ensuring that the UK attracts and fosters a diverse and highly talented workforce. This is particularly important given that a significant proportion of clinical academics are nearing retirement age.
“While I am pleased to see that the number of female clinical academics has increased, there is still a long way to go to ensure equal representation. Representation on all fronts is key to medical advancement and progress; medical schools must therefore come together to consider the causes of the gender and ethnic imbalances that the data highlights and find solutions to this.
“Investment in the clinical academic workforce provides enormous societal benefit. Without the phenomenal research response to Covid-19, for example, the UK would not have discovered the treatments that have saved millions of lives worldwide, or invented vaccines that have allowed the relaxation of government restrictions. Funding and supporting the clinical academic workforce should therefore be a priority for all stakeholders interested in safeguarding public health and improving the future of medical science.”
Read the full data: Medical Clinical Academic Survey
Notes to editors:
- The Medical Schools Council is the representative body for UK medical schools. The council is made of the heads of UK medical schools and meets in order to shape the future of medical education and research in the UK. For information about the work of the Medical Schools Council, please see medschools.ac.uk.
- The Medical Clinical Academic Survey is a way for institutions such as universities, hospitals and research funders to understand the current pool of clinical academics. The first survey was undertaken in 2000 and the Medical Schools Council assumed responsibility for the survey in 2003, after which it has been undertaken annually. Since 2018, the data has taken the form of an interactive tool which includes both the latest and all historical data.
- The Clinical Academic Training and Careers Hub was launched in October 2021 to promote the role of clinical academics and support health professionals beginning their clinical academic journey. For more information, visit www.catch.ac.uk.
- For more information about this press release, please contact Flora.Meadmore@medschools.ac.uk