Less than a decade ago in this period of flourishing biomedical science, the contribution of physician-scientists to research was progressively declining to the point where the species seemed endangered. Although recent data from the National Institutes of Health suggest a reversal of this trend, the fact that the decline occurred at all has prompted me to think about the singular and perhaps critical role of the physician in research.
The very origin of biomedical science owes much to the contributions of physicians. Challenged by disease, physician-scientists such as Schwann, Golgi, Ludwig, Cohnheim, Bernard, Koch and Erlich developed the basic technology for the staining of diseased and normal tissues, the measurement of physiologic processes and the cultivation of bacteria. In so doing they opened the door not only to the scientific study of disease but also to the understanding of normal cell structure and function. The continuing potential of the physician...
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