Today we have an inside look at clinical research. Susan Maya, a clinical research coordinator in the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital was kind enough to tell us about her current position.
NV: Question 1. What do you do?
Susan: A little bit of everything. In a nut shell, each of the three to six research coordinators in our group is responsible for clinical trials. Some studies are externally sponsored and others are internal.
I’m responsible for the day to day function of the “smaller” multi-site studies. I spend 50% of my time doing the administrative stuff: IRB paperwork, data entry, calling patients to schedule appointments and such. The other half is actually running studies. For each of the drug studies we run, patients have to come in multiple times for the study. We do different types of testing to make sure the study drug isn’t harming them and to see if the study drug is effective.
I’m the first point of contact for the patients if they experience side-effects or need information. Coordinators do everything from taking vitals and EKGs to drawing blood. Then the neurologist – our PI – will come and do her assessments.
The last thing I do – which is not directly related to the studies – is a bi-monthly disorders clinic where our PI sees people outside the regular research studies on Huntington’s. It’s interesting because it is a multi-faceted team that really focuses on disease management, which is important since there isn’t a treatment for Huntington’s at this time.
I also sometimes have the opportunity to help those who are interested in getting involved in the studies.
NV: Question 2. How does your background in science – and research particularly – help you?
Susan: What I do day-to-day is not directly related to what I would be doing in a bench research setting. I do spend a good amount of time processing blood samples; which is good because I’m invested in the patients – since I work directly with them. But I can learn about the research that’s going on, and participating in the process helps me to understand it better.
NV: Question 3. What is the most exciting component of what you do?
Susan: I like drawing blood. But really, it’s getting to work with the patients.
One of the nice things about clinical research – especially with a long-term disease like Huntington’s - is that you really get to form relationships with the people involved in the studies. I can see this with our neurologist, who really KNOWS our patients.
NV: Question 4. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become a clinical research coordinator? An advocate for Huntington’s research?
Susan: There aren’t that many technical skills involved in being a coordinator, because we get our training on the job. But you have to be flexible, work collaboratively with the other members of our team.
In terms of advocacy – there is a great community already. Huntington’s Disease Society of America is great about educating families and patients about trials, new drugs and discovery.
NV: Question 5. What’s your next step?
Susan: I’m going to medical school in August. I definitely see myself doing research while I’m there. Not because I have to (since Yale requires it) but because I want to. I see myself pursuing research further.
Thank you to Susan for giving us a few minutes by phone to learn more about her and her career. We look forward to following up with her soon to hear about how her passion for research exhibits itself in medical school. For more information about Huntington's Disease, please visit the HDlighthouse.
This is part of the ongoing Profiling New Voices series.