Building a physician-scientist pipeline

On the way to Malawi, I saw that the UNC presence in Africa was apparent from the second we got off the plane in Johannesburg: there were two other UNC HIV researchers on the flight over with us who were off to rural Africa to work on clinical trials!

On Friday, I had the chance to visit collaborators in Johannesburg with UNC’s rock star researchers Mike Cohen and Charlie van der Horst. We visited their co-researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand, which is thankfully referred to as WITS (pronounced vits). WITS is one of the top two universities in South Africa. The other is the University of Cape Town.

We visited with colleagues from the business school, medicine and science. And I got to meet my counterpart, Dr. Loyiso Nongxa (his title is Vice Chancellor), who is a mathematician.

One of the things that stuck out for me is how lucky we are to have the American system of academic medical centers. In our culture, most young academics aspire to becoming a productive physician-scientist who sees patients and does research. In South Africa, even at an excellent place like WITS, it’s a challenge to get young faculty to take time from the clinic to devote to research. They do not have good controls in place to make sure they won’t lose their status in the clinic if they do research.

In the states, young academics aspire to have their own grants and to see patients in the clinic. While we have work to do to make it easier for young faculty to get their research going, we have nothing like the hurdles they have in South Africa.

Our star researchers are working with their colleagues here to make it easier for physician-scientists to get started here. It’s good for South Africa, but it’s also good for building a pipeline of investigators who might go work with us in Malawi.

Off to Malawi this weekend.


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    Dear Chancellor Thorpe,

    TAKULANDIRANI KU MALAWI! I am very glad you have come to visit Malawi. I am currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zomba (Southern Region) and also UNC BSN ’04. I have been to the UNC Project Malawi in Lilongwe and its a beautiful facility. If you have time to travel to the south, let me know!


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    Amily Carol

    Johannesburg is a so beautiful and charming country of south Africa.