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Will Congress Cut Salaries For UW School of Medicine Faculty?

The Scientist reports that the House draft of a budget for the NIH would cut the maximun salary for a Principal Investigator  (PI) by 17%, from  $199,700 to $165,300. 

This cut would have its most obvious effect on federal support for MD scientists.  Because salaries for MDs are much higher than for PhDs, the federal government already has a cap on the salary that can be paid to a PI. Even if a surgeon earns 300,000, the NIH will calculate her 20% effort devoted to a grant at no more than 20% of  $199,700.  Moreover, the NIH calculates salary based on a 100% of total effort .. that is 20% of 24 hour days and seven day weeks.   Since the surgeon/sceintist in my example is expecting to be paid at the level of a surgeon and clinical funds can not be used to pay for research time, ay salary above the $199,700 … even for the 20% on the grant … needs to come from non NIH and non clinical sources.

 The effect would be especially bad at the UW where the NIH, in effect, subsidizes medical education.

Academic researchers are almost always under some form of contract,  That contract can run by the year, for the duration of a grant, of be under tenure. Tenure decisions, with their very large financial commitment,s are usually based on the expectation that a faculty member who has been successful in getting funding will continue to be funded for a long time.  

Great research schools, like the UW School of Medicine, are built on that expectation that faculty supported by research funds will donate their time as teachers.  A drop of 17 percent could lead to a shocking increase in the cost of medical education.

Already running on empty when it comes to State support, cuts in faculty salaries of this size  could run into millions of dollars of unexpected costs.

Congress will have to reach some consensus on the provisions contained in the House and Senate versions of the legislation before passing the 2012 DHHS spending bill, a move that is expected by the end of this year or early next.


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