Challenges and Triumphs in Oncology Clinical Research Jobs

According to clinialtrials.gov, there are 7,900+ oncology trials currently recruiting in the United States. These trials can be lengthy and complex. They require a lot of motivation from the clinical research teams that keep them going.

Clinical research nurses are vital in supporting trial participants throughout their healthcare journey.

Nurses help each participant enter the trial as they cope with the disease. Patients may not feel well physically or mentally. Participating in a clinical trial may be their last resort. 

What is it like to work in this challenging and urgent environment?

We asked our Vitalief Nursing team what it was like to work in oncology clinical research. Even though they said conducting oncology trials is challenging, they found motivation and purpose in the roles they filled. 

The Challenges of Working in Cancer Clinical Trials

Many people are considering the growing opportunities for nurses in clinical research. Oncology clinical trials are a challenging area for unique reasons. But they still provide a rewarding opportunity to help patients in need with a condition that impacts almost everyone’s life.

Cancer Impacts Everyone

We all know someone who has had or is currently suffering from some type of cancer. There are hundreds of diverse types. It impacts our families, friends, coworkers, and communities.

Study Coordinator Tessa Rivers reinforced this point noting, “I think that a key difference for oncology trials versus other therapeutic areas is that cancer has impacted almost everyone’s life in some way. Whether directly or indirectly, everyone knows someone who has battled this disease. It is such a broad disease with so many nuances with devastating potential.”

Rivers continues that nurses are even more likely to encounter oncology patients, noting, “whether the ER, medical-surgical, or outpatient clinic, it is likely that a nurse will engage with a patient who has suffered from cancer in some way.”

Eligibility Criteria for Clinical Trials is Narrowing

Melissa Murphy-Mento, Research Nurse, shared her experience working with increasingly targeted clinical trial inclusion criteria. She says, “Finding the right trial for a patient is difficult because eligibility criteria are extremely specific, as they should be to ensure good science.”

In her experience, she has “collaborated with patients that met 9 of 10 requirements, but the 10th requirement prohibits them from enrolling in a study.”

The waiting period during screening can also be challenging. Daisy Acevedo, Nurse Navigator, described, “By the time patients are referred to research or seen by the oncologist, they have potentially been diagnosed with cancer for months. If they qualify for a study, they may have to get repeat CT scans or biopsies. Helping them to expedite those appointments can be challenging. Then you must wait for the results. Overall, the time it takes to gather all the screening requirements can be excruciating.”

That time may not result in oncology study participation, as she notes, “After gathering your results, you sometimes find that the patients are not eligible for the trial. Now that patient has lost precious time.”

Nurses must be sensitive to the patient experience once the patient participates in a clinical trial.

Mehmet Kurt, Research Nurse Clinician, notes, “These trials and the treatment plans can be very intense, especially when patients are suffering. Nurses must be aware of the intensity and help the patient navigate it successfully.”

Clinical research nurse talking to a cancer patient who is smiling

The Triumphs of Helping Oncology Clinical Trials

For people who want meaningful career opportunities, the oncology clinical research space provides a rewarding experience. Even with the difficult realities of cancer, our team finds a purpose in having a positive impact.

Offering Hope to Cancer Patients in Need

As difficult as these trials may be, they often offer a promise of restored health. Innovative medicines and treatments can bring relief and hope to sick patients.

From Rivers’ perspective, that hope is the most rewarding part. The Study Coordinator says, “There is so much promise behind some clinical trials and offering patients alternative treatments that might improve their prognosis brings hope to some otherwise hopeless situations.”

Rivers also expresses the joy of seeing a patient heal, saying, “Witnessing the recovery that can occur as a patient completes an experimental treatment keeps my spirits up. It helps me believe that what I am doing truly benefits the patient.”  

Acevedo adds the meaning in being part of a clinical research team that looks out for the patient through the challenges of a cancer diagnosis.

The Nurse Navigator says, “life can get challenging, especially when you are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Knowing that you have support and a team that ensures you are still getting the care you need can help lessen the stress on the patient and their families.”

Finding Meaning in Matching Oncology Patients with the Right Trial

Kurt also finds purpose in matching a patient to the right investigational drug. The Research Nurse Clinician says, “It is so satisfying to know you can have such a positive impact on someone.”

Murphy-Mento agreed, “Seeing a patient benefit from participating in a study is easily the most rewarding! Standard of Care (SOC) treatment plans have known limitations. So, when a patient passes those typical limitations, and we can attribute it to an altered treatment plan, it makes it all worthwhile!”

With so many ongoing oncology trials, there is great hope for new therapies that will lessen and eventually eradicate the threat of cancer. For now, the role of nurses in oncology trials continues to be a critical connection for patients and their families who need information, education, and logistical, physical, mental, and emotional support. 

Clinical Research Jobs that Make a Difference

Vitalief is incredibly proud of all our team members who provide continuous support for clinical trials across several therapeutic areas. We are particularly proud of our teammates who are supporting oncology research because of the significant impact it is having.

Our research nurses are the frontline for therapeutic innovation. Their relentless efforts are changing lives, and we admire their commitment to such challenging work. Whether reviewing protocols, screening and monitoring patients, or providing support to investigators and trial participants, we celebrate their leadership, innovation, compassion, and drive.

If you are a nurse in New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania and want to pursue a career in clinical research, contact Vitalief to learn more about our team and our vital work!

Opportunities for Nurses in Clinical Research

In the past couple of years, the nursing profession has been riding a rollercoaster. Fueled by a global pandemic and labor shortages, the profession has seen its fair share of trauma in a short timeframe. 

Simply working in a high-stress environment (particularly the emergency department or intensive care unit) where decisions can be life-altering, can in itself be stressful and lead to burnout. But there is more to the narrative.

For burnt-out nurses needing a change, clinical trial management careers are a great fit for their skills while providing a more stable, low-stress day-to-day. Clinical trials across New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have growing opportunities for nurses who want to change gears.

A Recipe for Burnout

We’ve all heard stories of nurses being pushed to their limits while working long hours. Consecutive overtime shifts with little or no breaks lead to physical and mental exhaustion. Being responsible for too many patients at one time increases the burden. Add issues like personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages and unrealistic expectations, creating a recipe for industry-wide burnout. 

The Impact of Burnout

Burnt-out nurse resting head on hands

Burnout at this level is concerning for multiple reasons.

  1. It impacts everyone in the healthcare ecosystem.
  2. It could lead to inconsistent care and potentially inferior care. 
  3. It impacts the quality of care and could severely impact patient outcomes.
  4. It pushes great nurses into other professions.

This is a loss to patients. It’s also a loss for hospitals and clinics that must recruit and hire new resources to fill the vacancies. Hiring and onboarding are expensive and time-consuming efforts. 

Skilled nursing professionals are not easy to find. Many nurses are reevaluating their career choices and re-thinking how and where they want to work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 3 million registered nurses in the U.S. Though an average of 194,500 openings are expected each year through 2030, the demand for nurses is expected to outpace supply because of people leaving the profession and retiring. 

Reducing Nurse Burnout

There are plenty of recommendations to address burnout. Most require organizational attention and a commitment to supporting overburdened nurses in meaningful ways.

Recognizing the problem is great, but it’s only the first step. 

Improving Communication

Improving communications tops the list of recommendations. Advice urges nurse managers to create transparency. They should promote an open-door policy for nurses to share professional and personal challenges. In doing so, managers can potentially address resource allocation, training, or other factors that may be making the situation worse. 

Employee Support Programs

Employee support programs such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga can help to address nurse burnout. Taking a moment to breathe and assess a situation can help clarify options. It can also improve decision-making in stressful hospital environments. 

Self-Care Support

Self-care is a critical factor that ultimately is the responsibility of the nurse. However, the organization can support better self-care with educational programs and support services. Plus, organizations can create a supportive culture by:

  • Recognizing a nurse’s efforts
  • Rewarding their professional performance
  • Supporting their efforts to delegate work
  • Setting boundaries

A New Opportunity

Sometimes burnout requires a more significant change. Many nurses consider other professions. For these professionals, clinical research presents an interesting opportunity. They can leverage their existing skillsets and find job satisfaction. Plus, it removes many of the factors that contributed to burnout. 

A Key Opportunity for Nurses in Clinical Trial Management 

Nurses at clinical trial

Clinical research represents a great opportunity for nurses looking for a new challenge. Research organizations (hospitals, clinics, and academic institutions) routinely conduct clinical trials. Trials play an important role in bringing new therapies, medicines, and medical devices to people in need. 

Clinical trials study:

  • New drugs, biologics, or medical devices that are not yet approved by the FDA (or other health authorities)
  • New uses for already approved products
  • New ways to administer products
  • New tests to diagnose illnesses
  • New procedures to address symptoms.

There are numerous clinical trial administration roles with opportunities for patient interaction and care. At the same time, they can reduce the hours/shifts required and the number of patients they are caring for.  For example, the Clinical Research Coordinator (CRC) is a critical role in clinical research and trials.

What Do Clinical Research Coordinators Do?

CRCs assist the principal investigator (PI) and work with the department, sponsor, and institution to ensure trial compliance. They also:

  • Screen subjects
  • Communicate trial requirements to participants
  • Coordinate tests and procedures.

In this way, CRCs interact with all clinical trial stakeholders. They maintain the study timelines and ensure compliance with relevant regulations.

Camaraderie and Purpose

As a member of a clinical trial team, the CRC works with colleagues from various organizations with an array of backgrounds. Being part of a study team often offers a sense of camaraderie.

As teams work toward the common goal of a successful trial, they build relationships that add meaning to their work. This and common goals inject purpose into their tasks.

Patient Interaction on a Stable Schedule

Clinical trial CRCs have the opportunity for ongoing patient interactions throughout the trial. But unlike nursing, they typically have predictable hours with weekends and holidays off.

This is a huge benefit and a big change for nurses who work double shifts and holidays. 

Growth Potential

CRCs perform a wide variety of trial-related tasks. Thus, they have opportunities to work independently and expand their skill sets. This can lead to job satisfaction and growth potential. 

New Opportunities for Nurses in Clinical Research

The Clinical Research Coordinator is one of many roles that nurses can fill throughout the clinical research industry. Some roles support the patient experience while others may be more compliance-focused.

As clinical trials move toward decentralized or hybrid models, it’s important to engage patients through new channels. Trial teams are starting to use new technologies to collect, track and manage the patient experience. So, telehealth trial visits are increasingly common. New technologies, new processes, and innovative science call nurses toward a meaningful career. One where they can learn, grow, and boost their quality of life while contributing to much-needed new medicines. 

If you are a nurse in NY, NJ, or PA interested in learning more about a career in clinical research, contact Vitalief today. We can help you find a meaningful career path that offers growth and flexibility.

The Evolving Role of the Clinical Research Coordinator

Clinical Research Coordinators (CRCs) hold a pivotal position and are critical to the success of a clinical trial. These multi-talented team members are often required to be a “Jack-of-All-Trades.” Florence Healthcare describes the CRC as “the “heart” of a clinical trial – the champion of the protocol, the guardian of the patients, the taskmaster of the research team.” They manage numerous details of the trial, such as eligibility criteria and adverse event (AE) reporting, while also being responsible for broader communications with trial participants, principal investigators (PIs), trial sponsors, and external labs.

One of the critical responsibilities of a CRC is to maintain essential information about the conduct of the trial. The Good Clinical Practices (GCP) requires much of this information, and noncompliance can result in institutional review board (IRB) sanctions or withdrawal of study funding. 

There are many other pressures on CRCs. As noted in the 2019 Survey by the Italian Group of Clinical Research Coordinators (GIDM) and conducted among their membership, the average number of studies followed by the interviewees was 12.4 actively enrolling trials, and 10.6 trials closed for recruitment. At the time of the interview, only a few respondents could rely on a stable contract, permanent- (21.4%) or fixed-term (12.5%), while most (66.1%) worked through diverse temporary contracts (e.g., freelance, or project-based contracts). 

Varying contractual obligations with sponsors create extra pressures often exacerbated by a continuous flow of protocol changes throughout the trial. These typically set off a flurry of distributing, updating, and redistributing documents. It’s essential to manage and track all these activities under strict study timelines for compliance purposes.

A Myriad of Clinical Trial Technologies

The clinical research coordinator can be viewed as the hub of a wheel with spokes that connect them to stakeholders across the clinical research ecosystem. They are often required to learn and use different data capture, collaboration, and analysis tools.

Understanding the technologies and their strengths and weaknesses becomes a vital part of the role. As more clinical trials move toward hybrid and virtual designs, CRCs must keep up with evolving technologies used within various trials. For example, CRCs can now acquire informed consent from trial participants remotely via telehealth eConsent. CRCs need to be comfortable using the different enabling technologies to ensure compliance and patient safety.

clinical research coordinator

The Voice of the Clinical Research Coordinator

As clinical trial ecosystems introduce new technologies, CRCs will ensure these new solutions provide adequate support for the trial’s objectives and don’t diminish the team’s abilities to interact with patients or quickly discern issues. Their voice will be important in shaping the future’s use of technology.

For example, telemedicine has offered the ability for healthcare providers to engage and interact with patients remotely. As the “face” of a trial, CRCs often build relationships with patients and other stakeholders that support the study objectives and encourage patients to participate in future trials. Technologies should help in these efforts and not hinder them.

Hybrid and virtual trials, a new and growing focus on patient-centered trials, and increasingly complex trial designs will continue to impact the duties of CRCs. This environment will continue to pose new challenges and new opportunities. The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) states that a dedicated support system including professional development and Principal Investigator (PI) mentoring will enable CRCs to grow professionally and personally. Organizational support for this critical role will continue to be imperative as the dynamics of clinical trials continue to change.

Contact Vitalief for Clinical Trial Solutions and Support

Running a clinical trial requires hard-working staff and problem-proof solutions and support. Whether you need help hiring staff such as a Clinical Research Coordinator, attracting patients, or managing processes, Vitalief offers a solution. Contact us today to learn how our people-first culture can become an asset to your organization.