Research Coordinators Network

By Patricia Famely

Clinical research is one of the many strengths of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. Success in this endeavor relies on the skills and teamwork of the investigators and their research coordinators – many of them nurses.

For continued success, skills must be kept current and expanded. Many coordinators, inundated with work and isolated in research pods, found that difficult.

The research coordinators at St. Joseph’s solved the problem by forming a grassroots, self-help group to keep their skills sharp and growing through educational initiatives and group discussion of common problems. The group acts as a network for the exchange of information and mutual support.

The Clinical Research Coordinators Focus Group (CRCFG) brings together over 50 active research coordinators who collectively have a broad spectrum of knowledge and experience in a variety of health disciplines.

Co-chairs and group founders Mary Jane Sayles and Pat Hussack – both nurses – saw a need and set about filling it.

“In less than two years CRCFG has grown from a few to over 50,” said Ms. Sayles. “Our group members coordinate studies from many clinical specialties, including cardiology, respirology, nephrology, thromboembolism, gastroenterology, surgery and psychiatry.”

“The coordinators are multi-disciplinary,” said Ms. Hussack. “Many are nurses, with others having a background as respiratory therapists, pulmonary function technologists or other laboratory areas. We don’t all necessarily do the physical testing.”

The group meets once a month, usually with an agenda that has included such topics as professional affiliations for research personnel, continuing education opportunities, research ethics board functions, subject recruitment, source documentation, informed consent process, budgets, and so on. Guest speakers are always welcome, but the wealth of experience and expertise within the group is such that CRCFG members give many presentations themselves.”It is of great benefit to all of us – talking to each other, problem solving and disseminating information,” said Hussack. “For instance, some of the coordinators have as much as 19-years of experience while others are new to research and CRCFG gives them a way to tap into that experience as well as bring their ideas forward. We are able to help and support each other.”

“We can let people know when there’s an upcoming educational information,” added Sayles. “We’ve developed excellent rapport with St. Joseph’s Father Sean O’Sullivan Research Centre, and CRCFG has become a contact group for them. When needed, we can get information out to our members very quickly. During the SARS crisis that was really helpful.”

CRCFG is recognized and supported by the investigators and the institution. It has helped to increase awareness and knowledge about research issues. In Hamilton, this unique and innovative approach is being used as a model by other institutions to form self-help groups to share research experience and skills within their own institutions.

“Our ‘day’ job is coordinating clinical trials, but Pat and I saw a need to make the necessary self- development and skills improvement easier” said Sayles. “We could see the need and at the same time appreciate the depth of knowledge and experience already here. CRCFG brings the need and the resources together. We both like to mentor and CRCFG provides many opportunities to do this. Our recognition within the St. Joseph’s community, and emulation in other institutions is proof of the success of the idea.”