The American Physician Scientists Association was founded in 2003 by trainees, for trainees. From its roots as a small group of students, APSA has grown into an organization of over one thousand members. APSA continues to be trainee-led, and is the premier organization for physician-scientist trainee advocacy. APSA's efforts today include partnerships with numerous specialty societies, advocacy at the local and national level, and numerous unique benefits, including mentorship opportunities and special awards from partner societies, exclusively for APSA members. Learn more about the history of APSA below. If you are not already an APSA member, today is the day to join and become part of the ongoing APSA story!
APSA: A Brief History
The Early Years (2003-2008)
Much was being written and discussed at the turn of the 21st century about the status of the physician-scientist as an "endangered species" (1-5). A plethora of factors were deterring MD and MD/PhD graduates from pursuing careers as physician-scientists, including but not limited to: the lack of availability of research funding, pressure on physicians to pursue primary care careers, the rise of managed care, technological advances in science, and the increased indebtedness of medical school graduates.
It was on this backdrop that the American Physician Scientists Association (APSA) was born. In late 2003, Freddy Nguyen, a then 1st-year MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, founded APSA. Prior to the inaugural annual meeting in 2005, the name, concept, and objectives of APSA were being disseminated on websites (e.g. Student Doctor Network) and at various meetings, including the National MD/PhD Student Conference and the AAMC GREAT (Graduate Research, Education, and Training) Group meeting. By increasing the visibility of APSA and by passionately and tirelessly advocating on its behalf, APSA’s founding members were able to excite fellow trainees and involve them in the organization’s early growth.
Freddy Nguyen garnered considerable support from leaders of the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) and the Association of American Physicians (AAP) prior to holding APSA’s first Annual Meeting in conjunction with these two organizations in April of 2005. The link between APSA and these organizations—composed of physician-scientists committed to performing research that would advance clinical medicine—was logical, with APSA being a collection of trainees interested in pursuing careers as physician-scientists. To this day, APSA holds its ever-vibrant Annual Meeting in conjunction with the ASCI/AAP Joint Meeting in Chicago each year. In a 2008 publication in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, Nguyen described this meeting as "the only national and international conference that brings together the full gamut of the physician-scientist pipeline under one roof, from the medical student trainee to the K08 awardee to the young physician-scientist (ASCI members) to the established physician-scientist (AAP Members)"(6).
In addition to the annual meeting, APSA expanded to provide members with regional meetings, starting with one held in Houston in 2006. By 2010, four meetings were being held in the fall of each year, including the South, Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast Regional Meetings. The regional meetings allowed for networking and community building among physician-scientist trainees at the regional level, particularly for those who were unable to make it to the Annual Meeting. A special focus of the regional meetings was also outreach, as a large number of undergraduate students interested in MD/PhD programs were invited to attend these gatherings.
Passing the Torch (2008-present)
Freddy Nguyen remained at the helm of APSA until the summer of 2008, at which time the organization had grown to over 1000 members at 115 medical institutions, with an Annual Meeting attendance of well over 200. James Pauff from The Ohio State University was his successor as President of APSA; since then, Presidents have been elected at the Annual Meeting and have a served a term of one year each.
The leadership of APSA has expanded over the years to now include a 15-member Board of Directors and a 12-member Executive Council. The Board of Directors is composed of both physician-scientists and former Executive Council members, while the Executive Council is made up of physician-scientist trainees. These groups work together closely to ensure that APSA remains a strong, vibrant, and productive organization. The Executive Council includes the Chairs of the six Standing Committees, including the Events, Finance, Membership, Partnerships, Policy, and Public Relations Committees, as well as the Members-at-Large, who all work diligently to get much of the day-to-day, behind-the-scenes tasks completed that ensure organizational progress.
In order to provide a wide variety of benefits for its members, APSA continues to increase partnerships with major professional organizations in the research and clinical realms. Through these collaborations, APSA is able to offer its members travel awards, training workshops, and other opportunities for involvement and career development with these organizations.
Over the years, APSA’s website has undergone numerous improvements, and continues to grow and expand daily. Today, the website displays up-to-date information and news about the organization but also a number of other helpful resources. These resources include a database of all MD/PhD programs and research-friendly residency programs, information about funding opportunities, lists of publications relevant to physician-scientist trainees, and "communities" for specialty interest groups. ASPA has also significantly increased its online presence through involvement in facebook, twitter, Linkedin, and other social media platforms.
APSA has filled a void for physician-scientist trainees, and for the past ten years has provided members with numerous benefits; these include, but are not are limited to the four main pillars of APSA: mentoring, networking, outreach, and resources. In its over ten years of existence, APSA has grown to become the leading voice for physician-scientists in training, and the future of the organization looks bright indeed.