The Biomedical Workforce in the US: An Example of Positive Feedbacks

Paula E. Stephan
Georgia State University, NBER and ICER1

This paper makes the case that the biomedical workforce in the United States is characterized by positive feedbacks. The paper begins by setting out background information on (1) the way in which research is structured in the biomedical sciences; (2) the reward structure among biomedical researchers; and (3) the funding enterprise for biomedical sciences.

After addressing these three key components, the paper examines what these mean in terms of the market for graduate stud ents, postdocs and faculty. It then explores ways in which the positive-feedback mechanisms could be dampened. It concludes that the presence of positive feedbacks in the biomedical workforce is a result of system-wide problems. Any fix requires changing incentives. This is unlikely to occur as long as the U.S. Congress and faculty have their way.