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Ann Surg. 2002 Sep;236(3):277-86; discussion 286-7.

Recent trends in National Institutes of Health funding of surgical research.

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Division of Pediatric Surgery, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8062, USA.



To compare the amount of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding provided to departments of surgery with that provided to other major clinical departments, to examine the relationship between peer-review activity and funding success, and to compare trends in participation in the peer-review process between surgeons and representatives from other clinical departments.


Surgical research has made enormous contributions to human health. This work is fundamentally dependent on fair and unbiased distribution of extramural research funds from the NIH. To date, no published report has examined the relative distribution of extramural support between departments of surgery and other major clinical departments.


Data regarding funding trends and peer-review activity were obtained from the NIH and compared between departments of surgery and four nonsurgical departments (medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, neurology). Award data were examined during 1996 to 2001. Participation trends were examined during 1998 to 2000.


Success rates of surgical proposals were significantly lower than nonsurgical proposals. Differentials in success rates were greatest for proposals assigned to the National Cancer Institute, although relative underfunding for surgical research spanned all major institutes. Awards for surgical grants averaged 5% to 27% less than nonsurgical grants). Surgeons exhibited 35% to 65% less peer-review activity relative to nonsurgeons when normalized to grant submission activity. Overall, surgeons participated on sections where they made up a relatively smaller proportion of total review members compared to nonsurgeons.


Surgical grant proposals are less likely to be funded and carry significantly smaller awards compared to nonsurgical proposals. Relatively fewer surgeons participate in the review process, and those who do are more likely to be in the minority within study sections. Multiple strategies are needed to address these trends and level the playing field for surgical research.

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