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Clinical Research Coordinators Step Up to the Plate at the 10th Annual CRC RE@CH Awards
Clinical Research Coordinators Step Up to the Plate at the 10th Annual CRC RE@CH Awards
As Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute has grown over the past 100 years, so too has the number of supporting clinical research staff who ensure families and patients who are research participants have a seamless experience. This year, principal investigators nominated a record-breaking 37 staff members from across 22 departments for the 10th annual Clinical Research Coordinator Research Excellence @CHOP (CRC RE@CH) Awards and Recognition Event to recognize clinical research staff for their professionalism, compassion, and enthusiasm.
Debbie Kawchak, MS, RDN, CCRP, clinical research team manager and chair of the CRC RE@CH Awards steering committee, welcomed attendees May 9 before introducing Susan Furth, MD, PhD, executive vice president and chief scientific officer, who described clinical research staff as “the heart and soul” of countless studies.
The number of nominees has gone up substantially over the years, and because of this, the committee suggested increasing the number of awards, noted Richard Aplenc, MD, PhD, MSCE, assistant vice president and chief clinical research officer.
“The selection committee communicated to us that all nominees were extraordinary in their accomplishments and everything they’ve been able to contribute to their clinical research teams,” Dr. Aplenc said. “It’s well-deserved. We never would have the success we’ve had without the support of our research teams.”
Before revealing the three winners, Eileen Ford, MS, RDN, FAND, a CRC RE@CH steering committee member, announced the full line-up of nominees, who each received a gift. The attending research teams cheered on their colleagues with applause and homemade signs.
And the winners are…
Marlena Cook, clinical research program manager II
General Pediatrics and Division of Emergency Medicine
Nominated by Daniel Corwin, MD, MSCE, Division of Emergency Medicine
Throughout Cook’s 18 years with the Division of Emergency Medicine, her predisposition for mentorship and strong communication has helped the department grow from a handful of studies to where they are today, with Cook overseeing eight clinical research coordinators and 20 ongoing studies. In his recommendation letter, Dr. Corwin described Cook as “beloved by the research coordinators who report to her” for being their “champion and advocate” during their time at CHOP.
Especially during the COVID pandemic, Dr. Corwin remarked how invaluable Cook has been to developing effective remote communication strategies and virtual enrollment to put patients and families at ease while keeping the studies on track.
“It’s a huge testament to Marlena’s leadership, positive attitude, and her wonderful flexibility and adaptability,” Dr. Corwin said. “It’s my honor to recognize Marlena and her incredible work.”
In her acceptance remarks, Cook laughed, “This tops meeting Jason Kelce [center for the Philadelphia Eagles] this weekend,” as she wiped away happy tears. “I have to say thank you to my amazing research coordinators. They are the lifeblood of the research office, and we’ve gone through a lot in the last few years. It’s been so awesome to see you all grow. I’m thankful for all the gratitude.”
Paula Hu, RN CCRC ACRP-PM clinical research team manager
Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine
Nominated by Wallis (Ty) Muhly, MD, Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine
Dr. Muhly described Hu as “the ultimate professional” when communicating with both the research team and families. Considering thoughtful feedback from families, she has inspired improvements in data collection and promotes respectful patient advocacy.
Several PIs submitted nominations to recognize Hu for this year’s CRC RE@CH Award. Dr. Muhly was unable to attend the in-person ceremony, so Anushree Doshi, MD, another PI who nominated Hu, spoke on his behalf.
“[Hu] is a compassionate communicator when interacting with parents and families, and her expertise with regulatory compliance and data regulation makes her a natural bridge builder for our collaborations with other departments and institutions,” Dr. Doshi said.
Hu thanked her team by name, and expressed, “I am honored to serve the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine with the support and help of many investigators; without them, I could not do what I do.”
Drye’s warmth and inclusivity are hallmarks of her success with the Center for Autism Research. Dr. Guthrie noted that over the past two years, Drye’s “calm confidence” has helped more than 150 families feel comfortable bringing their infants and children to the research lab. Additionally, Drye serves as the coordinator for the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition Training Program, which trains community clinicians to administer the gold standard diagnostic tool for autism, and she developed a scholarship program for potential trainees without the funds to attend.
“[Drye] really sets the bar for the research team,” Dr. Guthrie said. “She’s not satisfied to just be excellent herself, but she goes out of her way to help everyone else around her to be better as well.”
Drye expressed her gratitude virtually, with a huge smile. “There’s a running joke that when one team member is recognized for something great, we all somehow loop it back to the awesomeness of the whole team, and it’s so true,” she said. “I’ve had such amazing mentorship during my time here. I’m so lucky to work and to grow with you amazing people.”
Keynote speaker Pamela Weiss, MD, MSCE, attending physician in the Division of Rheumatology, lauded the support of her clinical research team in helping her lab achieve everyday goals. She noted a study that detailed more than 128 professional roles that coordinators can hold. Their contributions lead to improved study recruitment, enhanced subject retention, and augmented study efficiency. Dr. Weiss highlighting their navigation of regulatory platforms, their motivational skills, and organization of data collection among many other traits that have contributed to her clinical research program’s success.
“Study coordinators are central to everything we do,” Dr. Weiss said. “It’s a heavy lift. You multitask, and we think you can do everything at once. You can communicate with other team members at other sites across the country or internationally in a powerful way.”
Dr. Weiss emphasized the critical role research coordinators had in finding new ways to boost study recruitment numbers. They participate in pre-clinical huddles with physicians to help identify patients who might be suitable for a study ahead of time. And they share positive feedback for recruitment success through humorous, coordinator-created memes.
“When my coordinators interacted with other coordinators at a national convention, our study was the talk of the town in terms of how much fun our team was to work with, how well organized we were, and how engaged we were with all the sites,” Dr. Weiss said. “That’s a measure of success that can’t be paralleled.”
A Homerun for CRCs
Andrea Solari, a former pediatric nurse at CHOP, shared the positive impact that clinical research coordinators have had on her son Anthony’s journey with autism. Anthony received a developmental delay diagnosis from CHOP by his second birthday. He started receiving applied behavioral analysis therapy five days a week and, although the experience was overwhelming at times, Solari explained the therapy brought him out of his shell. He learned 20 words that helped him communicate over the course of a year, and he participated in a preschool curriculum for autistic children. Anthony went from coming home with bruises from banging his head against surfaces to being mainstreamed without need of an aid by second grade.
Since then, Anthony has been involved in a multitude of studies at CHOP, all of which have helped him feel mature, independent, and empowered, Solari said. He most recently joined a study for social motor function.
“As a mom coming to CHOP to do research, I was extremely grateful because everyone knew what they were doing, which made me feel confident,” Solari said. “Whenever I ask him about joining another study, he does it willingly. The impact study coordinators have had on my son is amazing. He shares everything he learns with me, and being away from me builds his social skills. It makes him feel important to help conduct this research.”
Anthony, who is fluent in Spanish, attends St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia as an Autism Behavioral Studies major with a minor in Business. He is a pitcher on his club baseball team, and works at the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support assisting autistic adults. His future goals include learning to drive and visiting every major league baseball stadium.
“This is why we participate in autism research,” Solari said. “The effects it has had on Anthony’s progress has been is lifechanging, even for me as his mom. We’re so grateful.”