In fall 2007, the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program will celebrate its 35th anniversary as the first national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program has gained a reputation for giving young physicians the time and resources to diverge from traditional careers in medicine and focus on innovative research projects that combine clinical interests with health policy. Earlier this year, the program appointed its third national director, Desmond K. Runyan, M.D., Dr.P.H., professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
This article describes the purpose of the program and tells the stories of some of its participants. Every year, the program receives around 80 applications for its 29 openings. In a 2001 survey commissioned by the Foundation only 7 percent of the 513 medical residents who responded were considering applying to the program. The new director sees boosting the visibility of the program as one of his challenges. Most of the applicants have been internists though the program is open to all specialties. Clinical scholars often say the program has had a dramatic impact not only on the course of their careers but also on their appreciation for "big picture" issues in medicine.
The program has recently shifted its focus to community-based participatory research, which is intended to produce physician leaders who will interact more directly with their communities.