What Does a Clinician-Researcher Do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2019
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A clinician-researcher works in medical practice while conducting research. Active experience in practice can inform the direction of research and also creates a bridge between practicing physicians and people who focus on medical research. Work in this field typically involves extensive training, as doctors need to develop clinical skills in addition to exploring areas of potential research and refining their academic abilities. Some medical schools have programs that focus on providing education and mentoring experience for students interested in becoming clinician-researchers, as do teaching hospitals with an interest in promoting a high quality of patient care.

In an example, a psychiatrist might work as a clinician-researcher at a facility for patients with refractory schizophrenia, which resists treatment. The psychiatrist could work directly with patients and care teams while exploring new medications, therapy techniques, and other options for treating schizophrenia. This could include finding new ways to diagnose patients accurately, and better scales to use when assessing mental status and level of function. These can help researchers track outcomes and set specific goals for experimental treatments.


Working with patient populations, a clinician-researcher can identify specific medical needs, which may range from better treatments for disease to a more effective way to analyze patient outcomes. They provide direct patient care, which can include enrolling patients in clinical trials and keeping patients informed about research and development. Research activities can include working in lab environments, supervising clinical trials, and performing lookback studies with the use of medical records and other supporting data.

Clinicians need to keep up with continuing education requirements through training and other activities to retain their licenses to practice. Researchers tend to experience pressure to publish and participate in conferences and other events to maintain their careers, which can create heavy time demands on a clinician-researcher. This career requires excellent organizational skills and the ability to delegate and work as part of a team to successfully manage individual patient cases and handle research responsibilities.

Although it is not required, a clinician-researcher commonly has a medical degree and a postgraduate degree. Some attend MD/PhD programs where they earn both degrees simultaneously. A valid medical license is needed and many belong to professional organizations and pursue fellowships and board certification in order to offer the best care to their patients. Providing high-level treatment can also provide more access to research opportunities as well as research assistants interested in working with the best clinicians.



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