What Are the Most Pressing Issues Among Trainees and Early Career Physicians in Headache Medicine?

Many of the most pressing issues identified by early career headache physicians are not formally addressed in medical and research training.

In an article published in Headache® in February 2020, researchers surveyed the American Headache Society New Investigators and Trainees Special Interest Section (NITS) and International Headache Academy (IHA) attendees to better understand what they perceive as the most pressing issues they face in the field of headache medicine. Two of the paper’s co-authors, Amaal J. Starling, MD, FAHS, and Juliana H. VanderPluym, MD, FAHS, have chaired the Special Interest Section. They wanted to more formally survey its members about their concerns and goals. So they made the decision to poll new investigators and trainees at the Scottsdale Headache Symposium and IHA conference. They also conducted online polls.

We want to ensure that early career physicians and trainees in clinical or research practice are successful in the field of headache,” says Dr. VanderPluym, “We know there’s a great demand for them, and so we want to make sure that they do their best so that they have sustainable, successful careers.” To do so, she says, it’s key to not tell them what they need and instead, ask them what they think they need.

Key takeaways

The majority of survey respondents were clinicians, and Dr. VanderPluym says that their most pressing issues tended to depend on their level of training. Many of their most pressing issues didn’t tend to come up in formal education, she notes. “Those are things that people learn through their own personal experiences, sometimes good or bad, and through mentorship and sponsorship.” She says it’s important to recognize that members “might not be getting answers where we think.”

Overall the most pressing issues included career planning, the logistics of running a headache clinic, and opportunities for involvement. Working with industry was the most pressing issue identified by early career physicians.  Meanwhile, fellows and residents considered career planning the top area.

Based on the paper’s results, Dr. VanderPluym says, the authors have already put together a teleconference on one of the topics raised with plans for some additional manuscripts to follow for the resident and fellow section of the journal Headache®. Dr. VanderPluym also points out the findings reveal the importance of societies like the AHS for their ability to provide guidance. “When we identify this as an issue, hopefully it can also become part of the formal medical education so that it isn’t something that people have to haphazardly find their way to,” she says.

Next steps

Since this survey was a high-level view of the topics early-career researchers, clinicians and trainees in the field face, Dr. VanderPluym says the next step is a more granular look at the topics they would like addressed. “And then from there, the research will be on formulating ways of addressing those topics and assessing the effectiveness of interventions.”

Dr. VanderPluym says few comparable surveys like this have been conducted thus far. “It’s actually one of the first studies that has asked trainees what they want to know about. It seems simple and straightforward when you think about it, but there actually aren’t that many surveys out there that just ask trainees what they feel uncertain or uncomfortable with, or what they want to learn more about.” She hopes that this type of qualitative research continues to flourish. She believes it will yield information that will be valuable for future generations of headache medicine clinicians and researchers.

Headache®: The Journal of Head and Face Pain is the official journal of the American Headache Society. AHS frequently reviews published research and provides commentary on the work being done to help advance the understanding of headache and face pain. For more analysis on studies published in Headache®, visit the AHS News page.

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