CHICAGO (February 12, 2021): Since 2010, National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to support surgeon scientists has, remarkably, risen significantly while funding to support other non-surgeon physicians has significantly decreased. This growth has occurred despite an overall decrease in NIH funding and an increase in demand for clinical productivity. These findings are according to an "article in press" published on the website of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons ahead of print.
"Our findings challenge the notion that overall funding to support surgeon scientists has decreased; instead, it has dramatically increased," said Martha A. Zeiger, MD, FACS, Director of the Surgical Oncology Program, National Cancer Institute, NIH.
"When we looked at funding to support surgeons alone, we were surprised to find that funding has increased by 40 percent in terms of both numbers of surgeons being supported and the amount of funding. So, it's quite a remarkable and surprising finding."
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About the study
Using an NIH portfolio database, study researchers were able to conduct a thorough analysis of funding to support all surgeons, including all surgical specialties and subspecialties in the U.S. Other studies have only captured funding patterns of entire surgical departments, certain institutions, or individual surgical specialties.
For this study, Dr. Zeiger and colleagues searched NIH databases for 2010 and 2020 to identify all active and awarded NIH grants to support surgeon scientists by surgical specialty, total costs, and whether the grant supported basic science, clinical outcomes, or clinical trials research.
The researchers also compared total funding to support surgeon scientists with funding granted to support non-physician scientists with PhDs and funding granted to support other non-surgeon physicians.
The analysis showed increases in both the number of surgeons and the amount of funding for each surgical specialty. The percentage of NIH-funded surgeons (compared with the total number of surgeons) increased by 40 percent. In contrast, the percentage of other NIH-funded physicians dropped by 27 percent.
In June 2010, 715 surgeon scientists were supported by 1,113 grants, totaling $614 million in NIH funding. In June of 2020, 1,031 surgeon scientists were supported by 1,453 grants, totaling $872 million in NIH funding.
General surgery-based subspecialties topped the list, comprising one-quarter of the funded specialties and close to 40 percent of the total funding.