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Surgery. 2017 Jun;161(6):1482-1488. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2016.12.004. Epub 2017 Feb 1.

Surgery investigators funded through the National Institutes of Health: A rebirth.

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Department of Surgery, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, VA.
Department of Surgery, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, VA. Electronic address:



Funding toward surgical research through the National Institutes of Health has decreased relative to other medical specialties. This study was initiated to characterize features of academically successful surgeon-scientists and departments of surgery. We hypothesized that there may be decreases in young investigators obtaining independent National Institutes of Health awards and that successful academic departments of surgery may be depending increasingly on PhD faculty.


The National Institutes of Health RePORTER database was queried for grants awarded to departments of surgery during fiscal years 2003 and 2013. Grant summaries were categorized by research methodology. Training of the principal investigator and academic position were determined through the RePORTER database and publicly available academic biographies. Institutions were ranked by number of grants funded.


Between 2003 and 2013, total surgery grants awarded decreased by 19%. The number of National Institutes of Health-funded, clinically active surgeons (MDs) decreased 11%, while funded PhDs increased 9%; however, clinically active junior faculty have comprised an increasing proportion of funded MDs (from 20-38%). Shifts in research topics include an increasing proportion of investigators engaged in outcomes research. Among institutions ranking in the top 20 for surgical research in both 2003 and 2013 (N = 15), the ratio of MDs to PhDs was 2:1 in both fiscal years. Among institutions falling out of the top 20, this ratio was less than 1:1.


There has been an expansion of outcomes-based surgical research. The most consistently successful institutions are those that actively cultivate MD researchers. Encouragingly, the number of young, independently funded surgeon-scientists in America appears to be increasing.

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