Nurses play a vital, yet often, unseen role in clinical research. They bring their professional training, problem-solving skills, and knowledge of patients to a wide range of tasks.
In recognition of National Nurses Week, we asked two long-time, clinical research nurses to tell us about their work, how it has changed over the years with advances in technology, and why they love what they do.
Eileen Riddick (E.R.) is a Regional Training Manager for Accelerated Enrollment Solutions (AES). She has been a nurse for 19 years, 17 of which have been in the clinical research industry. Kylie Scheideler (K.S.) is an RN BSN, and Director, Local Feasibility and Site Activation for Accelerated Enrollment Solutions (AES). She has been a nurse for 11 years and has worked in clinical research roles for eight of them.
Q: How is working in clinical trials different from being a nurse in a hospital or physician’s office?
E.R.: One of the exciting parts of clinical research is that every day is different and brings new challenges! Some days, I’m traveling out to our sites to provide training or re-training staff there. On other days, I may be giving “virtual” training on new processes and procedures to our staff around the country. Every day, I’m focused on being a resource for them, to answer their questions, and provide guidance.
K.S.: I use my medical and nursing knowledge more than anything. In a nutshell, I determine which of our 50 U.S. sites should be proposed for a given clinical trial, which trials our company should or shouldn’t do, and assess our ability to support a clinical trial through protocol review. That’s vastly different from being a nurse in a doctor’s office where you are more clinical and hands on – taking vital signs, giving vaccines, and taking medical histories.
Q: How has being a clinical research nurse changed from when you started, until now? Has technology changed the way nurses do their jobs?
E.R.: Clinical research is always evolving, finding new or more efficient ways of bringing more therapies to market sooner. The evolution of technology has played a huge role in expediting the process of how data is captured and processed. Things like paper patient diaries and questionnaires are now electronic, allowing the study site team real-time access to that information, and affording the ability to process that data faster.
K.S.: Over the course of eight years as a clinical research nurse, I can’t say very much has changed. There is still data entry in paper charts and computer systems. But, there is a big difference between my work as a pediatric nurse and in clinical research. As a pediatric nurse, I was assigned patients with different acute illnesses; and the job was to continuously assess patients for improvement or deterioration. There was a lot of pressure because that patient was sick enough to be hospitalized. At any moment, that patient’s status could change, warranting immediate intervention; and the nurse needs to know what to do.
A clinical research nurse is responsible for collecting data per a protocol. The principal investigator (physician) is responsible for oversight of the patient in the trial, assessing the vital signs, and any other data that is collected. So for the nurse, the environment is much calmer, as patients (in general) are not acutely ill. We primarily do Phase II-IV clinical trials during which patients come in once a week, maybe once a month for visits. During the visits we ask if there have been any medical changes, assess vital signs, and conduct drug accountability.
Q: Why did you get into nursing?
E.R.: I’ve always been interested in the medical field. Nursing was a great opportunity to work in a field I love and have a direct impact on the lives of patients. When I was initially exposed to clinical research, I immediately fell in love. I love the challenges, the critical thinking required, and problem-solving opportunities it provides. Although I’m not in a bedside nursing role, being able to work with patients through their journey in a clinical trial often allows the opportunity to utilize knowledge, clinical, and soft skills that nurses possess.
K.S.: I have no idea what drove my passion to be in the medical field. I don’t have any family who are doctors or nurses. But, my first memory of “what do I want to be when I grow up” was an EMT. I always wanted to be a paramedic as a kid! By the time high school came, I knew I wanted to go to nursing school; and I actually started as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) when I was 16 years old. I worked in that role before and through nursing school; then immediately transitioned to a nursing role when I passed boards when I was 21.
Q: What do you love about your job?
E.R.: In addition to being a resource and support for our clinical research team members, I love playing a role in bringing new treatments and therapies to patients. I love the challenges. I love the camaraderie of my team. I’m grateful to be part of an industry that is working to improve patients’ lives.
K.S.: I love being a nurse, in any capacity. I’m proud to say that I’m a nurse. I have knowledge that others don’t. Friends and family come to me with medical questions, and I love being able to answer them. In my current role, I love having the medical expertise to contribute when conducting feasibility assessments. There are a lot of business-minded people in this industry and not enough medical experts; so I feel I’m extremely valuable.
Q: What’s the hardest part of your job?
E.R.: Right now one of the hardest parts is change management. Changes, in processes, or procedures, or day-to-day requirements, can present a unique training challenge. Change can be a hard process for many; and helping our staff navigate these changes in a productive manner -- while understanding and addressing their resistance -- can sometimes be one of the more difficult parts of my job.
K.S.: Sometimes being expected to have all the answers is hard. Maybe that’s an expectation I put on myself. In my previous role as a pediatric hospital nurse, one of the hardest things was taking care of a baby in the hospital who was clearly neglected, but not enough to warrant taking it from its home,or caring for teenagers after a suicide attempt. As a nurse, you have to be strong for your patients, despite how difficult the situation is. Being strong all the time can be mentally exhausting. But, I would go back to hospital nursing in a heartbeat and do it all over again.
Q: What do you wish people knew about what you do?
E.R.: What comes to mind is the misconception that our patients are “guinea pigs.” I wish people knew that those of us in clinical research cannot do our jobs, new drugs wouldn’t ever be brought to market, and advances in medicine couldn’t happen without study participants. Clinical researchers and the study team do the work, but the real heroes are the study participants.
K.S.: I wish people knew that there are different ways a nurse can contribute. Not all nurses are in the hospital or a doctor’s office, but I still feel I make my contribution through my role. And, I’m still skilled! I’m not “in practice” every day or using my clinical skills every day. But, if you asked me to go start an IV or infuse a medication, draw blood, assess lung sounds or check a pulse oximetry right now; I’d smile and throw my scrubs on.