Clinician Scientists - an initiative by Stiftung Charité

Stiftung Charité is the originator, initiator, and promoter of a special funding program for “Clinician Scientists”, created in Berlin in 2010.

The initiative of the program started with the observation, that many young physicians - not only at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, but also at other university hospitals German wide - do not receive enough time to conduct clinical research beside their duties in patient care. Any scientific ambitions could only be maintained by off-duty research. Especially during the multi-year phase of specialist medical training in Germany, the scientific community loses many highly qualified and motivated medical talents, because the young physicians may drop their scientific ambitions due to time constraints. They may also leave Germany after all to pursue their scientific goals abroad. Given these conditions, Stiftung Charité, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and Volkswagen Foundation joined forces to create a new career path that allows these young physicians both – patient care and professional training on one hand, research and scientific qualification on the other. Combining both sides is crucial for an innovative health care system.

In 2010, Stiftung Charité joined with junior clinicians and scientists, and decision makers from Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin to design a pilot program to support and fund “Clinician Scientists”. The main features of the “Friedrich C. Luft Clinical Scientist Pilot Program” are valid until today:

  1. After a competitive selection process, the program offers Clinician Scientists “protected time” for clinical research to a maximum extent of 50 percent of their clinical position during the second half of their specialist medical training.
  2. The Berlin Chamber of Physicians recognizes large portions of the clinical research time as part of the medical specialist training, thereby preventing long delays in their training (in comparison to a clinical-only path).
  3. The participants are provided with a cross-disciplinary curriculum, specifically designed for their interests and needs to prepare them for a career as Clinician Scientists.

After the success of the pilot program, the Clinician Scientist Program, under the management of Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), was permanently established in Berlin and expanded in 2014 and 2015 on the initiative of Stiftung Charité. Stiftung Charité is funding the Clinician Scientist Program with financial resources from its Private Excellence Initiative Johanna Quandt.

As a result, the Clinician Scientist Program now supports more than 100 participants from all clinical disciplines. In addition to its sheer size, the Berlin program has brought a cultural change towards a targeted support of the careers of clinical researchers at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

The Clinician Scientist Program has become well known in Berlin and beyond. Both, the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG) (cf. here, 2015 (in German only)) and the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) (cf. here, 2016 (in German only)) highlighted the program in their science policy recommendations as a best-practice model to follow German wide. In the past few years, more and more university medicine locations in Germany have set up similar Clinician Scientist Programs, some of them even being supported by public funding.

For Stiftung Charité, the Clinician Scientist Program is an impressive proof that it sometimes needs foundations and private initiators to go in new directions – not only in Berlin and not only in the field of university medicine.