1. What exactly is a physician-scientist?
A physician-scientist is just what you might think: a trained, practicing physician who devotes a great deal of his or her time and energy to biomedical research. On one hand, as a doctor, the physician works to cure and to heal patients, with all the commitment and compassion one expects from a medical professional. On the other hand, as a researcher, the scientist strives to make scientific advances in an area of of interest that can help understand a test, disease or treatemtn that eventually can be brought into practice and used, ultimately, to cure and to heal.

2. What unique challenges face a physician-scientist?
The medical profession often sees these two roles as exclusive of one another. Practicing doctors sometimes see physician-scientists as less than a full physician; likewise, clinicians may see them as less than a scientist. However, the multidisciplinary approach allows physician-scientists to develop a deep understanding of the practical aspects of treating patients, which, in turn, gives them special insight into the importance of research and clinical trials. They are critical in making the bridge beteen clinicians and basic scientist.

3. What advice would you give to physician-scientists entering the field?
As in any competitive field, a positive, disciplined outlook and an ability to set and achieve goals will help achieve success. Find mentors; in a field that is constantly being challenged, it helps to have role models who can offer encouragement and guidance. In addition, surround yourself with colleagues and collaborators. Working with other physician-scientists will elevate your research and create more opportunities in the field.

Dr. David Faxon is a physician-scientist currently serving as Vice Chair of Medicine for Strategic Planning for the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Over the course of his career, he has contributed extensively to the medical literature on cardiovascular disease and treatment.
By Dr. David Faxon

I have years of experience in treating cardiovascular diseases through interventional cardiology techniques and am a longstanding member of the American Heart Association (AHA). I served on the AHA and American College of Cardiology’s task force on practice guidelines and acted as President of the American Heart Association for one year. AHA provides a wide variety of research and news on cardiology and heart health, ranging from the highly technical, to articles promoting heart-positive habits for the general public.

Many Americans falsely believe that heart attacks occur suddenly and intensely with the victim and those around fully aware that cardiac arrest is taking place. This reflects the dramatic requirements of many movies and television programs, which present health events in a memorable, and often unrealistic, fashion. In reality, many heart attacks sneak up on individuals who lack awareness of the danger signs and thus wait far too long before seeking medical assistance.

While the early warning signs of a heart attack may feel more subtle than sudden severe chest pains, those who pay attention can often spot the symptoms. Chest discomfort (angina) is a major sign, with a feeling of constriction or uncomfortable pressure, or  pain. Angina generally lasting several minutes while a heart attach lasts longer than 30 minutes. Alternatively, the pain may go away and come back again at intervals, alerting an individual that a heart attach may be immenent. Discomfort in other regions of the upper body, including the arms, neck, back, stomach, and jaw, may also be a sign of angina or a heart attach. Shortness of breath serves as another critical sign, despite not always being accompanied by chest pain. This is particularly true for the elderly or women. Pay attention to other unusual aspects of your body’s condition, including lightheadedness, nausea, and breaking into a cold sweat.

Anyone with issues, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, or hereditary factors, should exercise significant caution about these warning signs. One should not hesitate to call an emergency medical services (911) if he or she experiences early heart attack symptoms, as taking timely action may save a life.

About the Author: Dr. David Faxon has treated patients using his cardiologic expertise since 1976, in addition to acting as Program Director for several cardiology-focused graduate medical courses over the years.
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