By John W. Engstrom, MD, FAAN
Professor of Neurology, Neurology Residency Program Director, University of California, San Francisco
Encouraging the long-term career development of neurology residents interested in disease-based research will promote the cultivation of neurology research leaders for the future. The Neurology Flexible Residency has been designed to improve "the pipeline" of neurologic disease-based physician scientists by offering research experience for neurology residents in laboratory or clinical science research. Efforts by the American Neurologic Association (ANA) Leadership Group to address this challenge of developing young neurology research investigators eventually resulted in a program model presented to the Neurology Residency Review Committee (RRC) of the ACGME. Work by both groups has facilitated implementation of this new program. This article discusses the early experience with the Neurology Flexible Residency at UCSF.
Neurology Flexible Residency provides choices for neurology residents ready to explore clinical science or laboratory science research as early as the second year of neurology residency. Both MD and MD/PhD residents (three total in the 2007–2008 year) have entered the program at UCSF. Special attention to appropriately matching projects, residents, and mentors has maximized the probability of success. The six-month experience engages interested residents at an earlier stage than fellowship, allows them to "test-drive" research as a possible career focus, energizes trainee interest in research during residency, and can give trainees a competitive edge for research grant funding at the end of training. Residents continue patient care "continuity clinics" (three half-days per month) during the research to comply with neurology residency training requirements. The classic neurology residency training option of three clinical years—with a subsequent clinical fellowship—remains an equivalent choice for many residents.
The UCSF Department of Neurology has overcome several obstacles to implementation of the Flexible Residency:
Other research programs currently exist for laboratory research in internal medicine and child neurology that reduce clinical training time, but the program structure is different. Commitments are usually made prior to residency. One advantage of Flexible Neurology Residency is that the decision to engage in a specific research area can be driven by interests developed during early trainee clinical experiences.
Additional clinical training options for the Neurology Flexible Residency program at UCSF will be developed in the next one to two years. For example, residents may choose to develop specific expertise in clinical education, global health, or hospitalist neurology. The concept of increasing the efficiency of clinical and academic training for the next generation of neurologic physician-scientists and academic leaders has been well received by many potential future neurology trainees. The greatest benefits for physician training will be realized when the Neurology Flexible Residency becomes a standard model nationwide for the training of academic neurologists.
Within the past 24 months, the author received personal compensation from the Allergan Scientific Advisory Board 4-07, and was asked to provide advice regarding the use of botulinum toxin. However, he had no relationship to the neurologic education of trainees. Additionally in that period, he has given occasional testimony and depositions as an expert witness in medical malpractice cases, which that have no relationship to neurologic education of trainees. Dr. Engstrom performs occasional expert witness work that has no relationship to educational issues.