Other sites
Search
Share
Cancer News and Information

The NSW cancer clinical research workforce in 2010

For NSW to continue to build on strengths in clinical and translational research, it will be important to continue to encourage new researchers to commence careers in these areas and for clinicians to be supported to engage in research.

Article
The NSW cancer clinical research workforce in 2010

In Australia the risk of being diagnosed with cancer before the age of 85 is one in two for men and one in three for women. Cancer is the leading cause of burden of disease in Australia accounting for 19 per cent of total disease burden in 2003. Research has been, and will continue to be, crucial to better preventing, detecting and treating cancer and has been recognised as one of the strategic cancer control programs of the Cancer Institute NSW since its inception.

The objectives of the research support strategy of the first NSW Cancer Plan 2004-2006 were to encourage and develop cancer research and research outcomes via a number of mechanisms:

  • Developing, attracting and retaining outstanding cancer researchers in NSW.
  • Developing and supporting outstanding research teams.
  • Encouraging collaboration or co-locations to attain critical scientific mass and enable significant research findings to be immediately translated into cancer control policy and practice.

The second NSW Cancer Plan 2007-2010 aimed to build upon and consolidate these achievements. It included initiatives aimed at further expanding and supporting translational and clinical trials research in NSW.

For NSW to continue to build on strengths in clinical and translational research, it will be important to continue to encourage new researchers to commence careers in these areas and for clinicians to be supported to engage in research.

While the Cancer Institute NSW research support program spans many disciplines of research, encouraging a strong culture of clinical research has been recognised as an essential component of driving the translation of research.

Clinician researchers play a critical role in medical research by bridging the gap between research and the clinic and are essential to the generation and transfer of knowledge within translational research settings. Given their vital contribution to a high performing health system there is concern regarding the declining numbers of clinicians conducting research.

The Cancer Institute NSW research support program aims to increase NSW's cancer research capacity in general and targeted schemes have supported and trained clinician scientists. From 2004 to 2009 $156 million was invested in Cancer Research in NSW including:

  • $28 million specifically towards translational research.
  • $20 million for the NSW Cancer Trials Network.
  • 18 clinical research fellowships worth $11 million.

The impact of these schemes on the cancer research workforce has been monitored through state wide surveys of cancer research activity, most recently in 2007 and 2010.

Methods

A cancer research activity survey conducted in Dec 2009-April 2010 captured information at a research group level for the period 2007-09 replicating a survey conducted in 2007 covering the period 2004-06.

Research groups in NSW were identified based on previous response to the survey conducted in 2007 and direct contact with organisations that could reasonably be expected to be conducting such research. For the individual researcher survey, invitations to participate were distributed by group leaders, research networks and using the Cancer Institute NSW grant-related distribution list.  A custom-built website was used to implement the two online surveys.

One hundred and forty-four research groups responded to the 2007-09 survey compared to 116 groups in the 2004-06 survey. There were some slight differences between the two surveys in terms of the definition of a 'group' response with some combined responses received in 2004-06 that were unable to be split by group. However, in both surveys the proportion of groups who responded was approximately 68-72 per cent of all groups identified who were conducting some form of cancer-related research.

All groups were asked to nominate their broad areas of research and allocate the per cent of effort allocated to each. They were also asked to report on external funding received and the size of their workforce (in terms of full-time equivalent (FTE) staff numbers). In 2010 this information was collected across a range of position categories and against whether the staff had a clinical background indicated by a medical and/or other allied health degree.

Results

Research in the area of clinical medicine and science

The NSW cancer workforce in the area of clinical medicine and science has increased from 420FTE identified in 2007 to 518FTE in 2010, now representing 34 per cent of the cancer research workforce Figure 1 & Table 1. The clinical medicine/science research area demonstrated the highest growth of all broad research areas in external funding with a 155 per cent increase for the period 2007-09 compared to 2004-06.Figure 2

The 2010 survey shows that within the traditional career researcher categories (senior, mid and early career researchers plus PhD students) the distribution of FTE for clinical science and medicine follows the pattern seen across the entire NSW cancer research workforce. However, the clinical medicine and science area appears slightly more 'top-heavy' with comparatively more senior researchers and comparatively fewer PhD students Figure 3

Researchers with a clinical background

Of the whole cancer research workforce in NSW in 2010, 23 per cent had a clinical background Table 1. This proportion is highest amongst senior researchers at 47 per cent but less than half this proportion was observed among early and mid-career researchers. Researchers with a clinical background were most frequently working in the area of clinical medicine and science (50% of all with a clinical background worked in this area) but also commonly in basic science (21%), psychosocial/behavioural research (16%) and health services research (10%) Figure 4

Within each broad research area, psychosocial/behavioural and health services had the highest proportion of researchers from a clinical background followed by clinical medicine and science. Within these three broad research areas over two-thirds of all senior researchers came from a clinical background contrasting with slightly less than one-third of senior researchers working in public health or basic science Figure 4b

Figure 1: Number of full time equivalent staff allocated to each broad research area; 2004-06 and 2007-09
Graph showing that the majority of full time cancer researchers work in basic science or clinical medicine and science.

NOTE: The area of "Health Services" was not included in the 2004-06 survey

Figure 2: External funding received for research: 2004-06 compared to 2007-09
Graph showing the external funding received by each of the broad research areas.
Figure 3: FTE within traditional career researcher position categories: clinical medicine and science compared to all cancer research
Graph showing the full time employment in clinical medicine and science compared to all cancer research.

*excluding administrative, technical and other support categories

Table 1: NSW Cancer research staff (estimated by FTE workload) by position type
Position LevelAll FTEClinical Medicine & Science
Total FTEClinical FTE% of position levelTotal FTEClinical FTE% of position level
Senior Researcher180.184.647%65.142.966%
Mid-career Researcher163.535.422%43.814.834%
Early-career Researcher190.445.324%46.714.531%
PhD Student317.959.619%64.719.430%
Research Assistant / Technical Assistant319.324.28%70.12.64%
Other Administrative Staff135.49.97%56.45.510%
Clinical Research Staff (coordinator and/or administrative)222.697.744%170.877.245%
Total1,529.1356.723%517.6176.934%
Figure 4a:
FTE staff with clinical background by position category and broad area of research.
Graph showing FTE staff with clinical background by position category and broad area of research.
Figure 4b:
Proportion of staff with clinical background within position category and broad area of research
Graph showing proportion of staff with clinical background within position category and broad area of research.

Discussion

The substantial increases observed in clinical research funding and the size of the workforce in NSW are encouraging signs that NSW has considerable strength and potential in this field. While basic research still predominates as the largest broad area of cancer research in NSW, there has been a proportional shift in the last three years towards areas of research such as clinical medicine and science and psychosocial/ behavioural research. This may reflect strategic funding directions of the Cancer Institute NSW as well as other major supporters of cancer research such as the NHMRC. Additionally it signals that these areas are particularly strong in NSW.

The recent survey also reveals the significant contribution of researchers from a clinical background. This includes those with medical and oncology training as well as trained allied health professionals. It is estimated that almost a quarter of the workforce has come from a clinical background, with much higher proportions in the areas of clinical medicine and science, psychosocial/behavioural and health services research.

Within traditional career research positions, the comparatively lower proportion of clinically trained researchers at early/mid career stages compared to senior researchers suggests that there has perhaps been a change in clinical career paths over time with less clinicians entering into a research career. In most research areas there are also a substantial proportion of researchers at a senior level compared to early and mid-career levels. This pattern is particularly pronounced in the area of clinical medicine and science. This is likely reflective of the aging of the general population in NSW and underlines the importance of succession planning over the next decades.

These factors pose a challenge for future leadership in clinical and translational cancer research. For NSW to continue to build on strengths in clinical and translational research, it will be important to continue to encourage new researchers to commence careers in these areas and for clinicians to be supported to engage in research.

References

  1. Tracey E, Ling L, Baker D, Dobrovic A, Bishop J. Cancer in New South Wales: Incidence and Mortality 2007 Sydney : Cancer Institute NSW, 2009.
  2. Begg S, Vos T, Barker B, Stevenson C, Stanley L, Lopez AD. The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003 Canberra : AIHW, 2007. PHE 82..
  3. Cancer Institute NSW. The NSW Cancer Plan 2004-2006 Sydney : Cancer Institute NSW, 2004.
  4. Cancer Institute NSW. The NSW Cancer Plan 2007-2010 Sydney : Cancer Institute NSW, 2007.
  5. Building quality in health - the need for clinical researchers Brown, G, Sorrell, T. 2009, Medical Journal of Australia, Vol. 190, pp. 627-629.
  6. The impact of mammography and adjuvant therapy on U.S. breast cancer mortality (1975-2000): Collective Results from the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network. Collaborators, Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network (CISNET) Breast Cancer. 2006, J Natl Cancer Inst Monographs, Vol. 36, pp. 1-126.

Media enquiries

For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact the following:

Or click the button to make an online enquiry.

Make an enquiry