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.”
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!