of publications twice that of doctorates from institutions without NRSA grants, 8.5 publications as compared to 4. Non-NRSA-supported Ph.D.s at NRSA institutions also had fewer publications by almost as large a margin, 5 publications as compared with 8.5.
Such studies do not, of course, indicate whether the success of former NRSA trainees and fellows reflects the training they received, the selection process, or a combination of factors. In addition, as alluded to above, these data have to be viewed with caution because a non-NRSA student in other funded positions such as an assistantship may have to spend additional time in activities not directly related to his or her research. Nonetheless, these findings do suggest that there are significant strengths and achievements within the NRSA program at the predoctoral level.
In assessing the needs for training support in the biomedical, behavioral, and clinical sciences, it is important to understand the role of NRSA awards. Although, as indicated above, NRSA awards support only a small fraction of the total number of trainees, the role of these awards in the training process is extremely important for the following reasons: First, they serve to attract highly qualified people into biomedical research. As discussed above, a good example of this is the Medical Scientist Training Program (M.D./Ph.D.), which has a well-established track record for launching physicians into productive—and often outstanding—research careers. Second, they have served over the years to direct training into specific research areas, which have often been emerging areas for which other mechanisms may not be available, such as molecular medicine, biophysics, and bioinformatics, and, as such, they have stimulated cross-disciplinary research. Third, they establish innovative training standards not only for NRSA awardees, but also for all trainees, regardless of their mechanisms of support. This last point is of great importance, and, indeed, over the past decade this may have been one of NRSA program’s most important contributions.
A report published in 2006 by ORC Macro for the NIH examined the career achievements of NRSA postdoctoral trainees and fellows from 1975 to 2004. The results of this study were inconclusive. By some measures the trainees had an advantage, and by other measures they did not. Most tellingly, the study concluded that after 12 years the postdoctorates who received NRSA support were largely indistinguishable from those who did not. Unfortunately the study is flawed: The postdoctoral pool is radically different from the predoctoral pool in that more than 50 percent of the postdoctorates are internationals and thus unable to become NRSA trainees because of the citizenship restrictions. Presumably, the international pool contains a significant number of equally talented and creative individuals who are well equipped to compete with the U.S.-trained postdoctorates, thus rendering any relative performance conclusions moot.
Since 1975, the NRC has issued regular reports on the supply of biomedical and behavioral researchers in the United States and the likely demand for new investigators. This con-
National Research Service Award Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-348)
Sec. 472. (a) (3) Effective July 1, 1975, National Research Service Awards may be made for research or research training in only those subject areas for which, as determined under section 473, there is a need for personnel.
Sec. 473. (a) The Secretary shall, in accordance with subsection (b), arrange for the conduct of a continuing study to—
(a) establish (A) the Nation’s overall need for biomedical and behavioral research personnel, (B) the subject areas in which such personnel are needed and the number of such personnel needed in each such area, and (C) the kinds and extent of training which should be provided such personnel;
(b) assess (A) current training programs available for the training of biomedical and behavioral research personnel which are conducted under this Act at or through institutes under the National Institutes of Health and the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, and (B) other current training programs available for the training of such personnel;
(c) identify the kinds of research positions available to and held by individuals completing such programs;
(d) determine, to the extent feasible, whether the programs referred to in clause (B) or paragraph (2) would be adequate to meet the needs established under paragraph (1) if the programs referred to in clause (A) of paragraph (2) were terminated; and
(e) determine what modifications in the programs referred to in paragraph (2) are required to meet the needs established under paragraph (1).
(c) A Report on the results of the study required under subsection (a) shall be submitted by the Secretary to the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Labor and Human Resources of the Senate at least once every four years.