Clinical research coordinators are the heart and soul of our research breakthroughs, as many of our investigators and staff at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia know. Whether they’re ensuring that a study falls within regulatory protocols, explaining the science behind a health condition to a family, or simply spending time with patient participants to put them at ease, coordinators bridge the gap between an idea and its execution, as well as between scientists and the patients whose outcomes they hope to improve.
On May 2, the Research Institute held its fifth Clinical Research Coordinator RE@CH Awards to honor this year’s 27 nominees, including two winners, and the growing community of talented coordinators who help make our discoveries happen every day. With a full house of attendees, the event began with a series of speeches and finished with an ice cream-and-pretzels networking session. And while this year’s ceremony didn’t have a specific theme, the event was filled with fun, laughter, and — thanks to keynote speaker, William Fox, MD — gold paper crowns for all the coordinators in attendance.
“This event represents the best of what the CHOP clinical research program is about,” said Debbie Kawchak, clinical research team manager in the Clinical Research Support Office (CRSO) “CRC’s are integral to many of the research studies that are the foundation of the treatments and the clinical care that we have here. Some of the research is cutting-edge, some just provides hope to a few children who have rare diseases, and some will form the basis of treatments locally, nationally, and around the world when these studies come to fruition. We want to recognize ALL clinical research coordinators for your work and your contributions.”
To kick off the event, Richard Aplenc, MD, PhD, made introductory remarks about the wide-ranging responsibilities and rewards involved in a coordinator’s work.
“I think the fact that we have 27 nominees this year is really a testament to the quality and scope of the work that you’re doing,” said Dr. Aplenc, addressing the coordinators in the audience. “You help us, as [principal investigators], carry out research, and you really are our hands. It’s one thing for me to have an idea, but it’s another thing to actually translate that idea to patients and into improved outcomes. This really is a team sport, and we’re not going to continue to advance care for our kids without your deep engagement and efforts.”
Expanding on Dr. Aplenc’s remarks, Dr. Fox, who is the medical director of our Infant Breathing Disorder Center and a lifelong innovator who has radically improved the care for our tiniest, sickest infants, emphasized one main idea in his keynote speech: the coordinator’s role as a scientist.
“You are scientists, as much as any of us are,” Dr. Fox said. “And you need to think about that because that’s the reward and the satisfaction you get for doing this job in this particular institution.”
Dr. Fox listed the multiple roles of a CRC in a quirky and empowering list, describing them as record-keepers, preventers of conflict, data controllers, disciplinarians, public relations specialists (for their research and their team), and finally, referees for the research team.
“You are gatekeepers for the aspects of protocol that involve the human beings that we have the luxury to take care of and make better,” Dr. Fox said. “It’s a big responsibility.”
Recognizing Coordinators With the RE@CH Award
To introduce this year’s nominees and award recipients, last year’s winners made brief and impactful speeches: Sarah Noon Raible, MS, CGC, a genetic counselor, expanded on last year’s theme of coordinators as superheroes who continuously face and overcome challenges. Eileen Ford, a program manager in the Infant Growth and Microbiome study and the Nutrition and Growth Lab, illustrated how along with being the study’s executors, coordinators are also the people closest to patients and families during a given project or investigation.
“We become, in many cases to many of our patients or participants, closer to them than their family or friends,” Ford said. “We become their friends.”
She explained that coordinators are the ones who remember to ask participants or their parents how their job interviews went or how they’re handling the everyday struggles that they might be going through outside of the hospital.
“I want to stress that with everything else, in terms of superheroes, in terms of being the backbone of research, that we really are caring,” Ford said.
The RE@CH Award, first introduced in 2014, recognizes all of these unique characteristics and more. This year, principal investigators across CHOP nominated their coordinators while additional staff send letters of support. A selection committee then made their decision based on set criteria: Winners must score high across a range of categories that includes relationships with patients, families, and staff; human subject protection; regulatory compliance and data integrity; leadership skills; contributions as a clinical research advocate for the hospital and research institute; and interpersonal skills.
And as Kawchak noted during the presentation, the increase in nominations between 2016 (16 nominees) and this year (27 nominees) reflects the growing research program at CHOP and the number of coordinators excelling in their careers. This year, Stacey Kleinman, a clinical research coordinator in the CRSO and working for the Division of Neonatology, and Sawona Biswas, MS, CGC, a genetic counselor in the Roberts Individualized Medical Genetics Center, accepted the 2018 RE@CH Award.
Dr. Fox made congratulatory remarks on behalf of Kleinman: “Stacey is really the quintessential coordinator. She’s trained virtually all the coordinators in neonatology as they come in. She’s on top of everything, and she’s always there, working nights and weekends when a project comes in. I can’t say enough about her. Her work is beyond excellent.”
Meanwhile, Ian Krantz, MD, director of the Roberts Individualized Medical Genetics Center, said a few words to congratulate Biswas. “[Sawona] has taken on running the Genomics Research and Innovation Network (GRIN), which is the transformational culture-shifting program to integrate CHOP with Boston Children’s and Cincinnati Children’s genomics research efforts, and that has so many moving parts and people involved,” Dr. Krantz said. “Sawona has really been the anchor of that study. We’re really excited about everything she’s done, and in addition to her incredible talents for coordinating these studies, she is an incredibly nice, pleasant person who the families love.”
Interested in learning more about the roles and responsibilities of a clinical research coordinator at CHOP? In this day-in-the-life Cornerstone post, follow Joshua Zigmont, RN, BSN, a nurse research coordinator who was also nominated this year for the RE@CH Award.