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Educating Tomorrow’s Clinical Researchers

A drug’s journey from proof of concept to FDA approval is a years-long, far-reaching process in which healthcare, business and government each play important roles. For aspiring clinical researchers hoping to navigate this sprawling field, there’s certainly a lot to learn. We thought we’d take a look at a pair of initiatives educating students in healthcare and pharmacology in the many aspects of clinical research. Driving these initiatives is the understanding that clinical research shouldn’t be a niche skill, that strengthening knowledge of clinical research among all kinds of healthcare providers will strengthen the healthcare industry as a whole.

Linking new clinical researchers online

One such initiative comes from Felipe Fregni, a physician at Harvard Medical School. Fregni has launched Principles and Practice of Clinical Research (PPCR), a nine-month course in clinical research practices offered to students in various countries. The course combines traditional education practices with an online model: lectures are delivered online, but groups of students view these lectures in live sessions at course centers around the world, which allows for group discussions. Most students hold degrees in healthcare-related fields but lack experience in clinical research; through PPCR, they learn basics such as study design and data management, as well as intangibles like how to communicate their research findings with authority and confidence.

Fregni’s inspiration for PPCR came from his own experience. Having already earned numerous post-graduate degrees in healthcare, he arrived at Harvard from Brazil to study clinical research. There, he learned that the ability to better analyze research findings could bolster doctors’ treatment of their patients. He resolved to launch a project to bring this skill to more healthcare professionals, and, as many in the developing world don’t have access to such opportunities, decided to make it a global initiative. In the nine years since its launch, PPCR has trained over 2,000 students in 30 countries.1

A partnership for training new researchers

Meanwhile, about a thousand miles south of Fregni’s Boston office, Mercer University in Atlanta has opened a clinical research center on its campus in partnership with the Institute for Advanced Medical Research. The University will use the center to offer pharmacy students training in all phases of clinical research. And while PPCR students finish out their course with a simulated study build and grant application, Mercer students will do the real thing, shadowing researchers as they conduct live trials at the center. The leaders of the center hope that such hands-on experience will accelerate students down the paths to various careers in clinical research, including in tangential areas such as regulatory agencies.2

Projects like these demonstrate that innovation in the world of clinical research doesn’t stop at drug development. Education, too, is seeing innovation from key figures in business and academia. Their efforts suggest a simple notion: that interactive, hands-on training today will yield leadership and critical thinking skills for the medical practices and pharma discoveries of tomorrow.

1 Online course aims to bolster clinical research skills (accessed 18 October 2016)
2 College of Pharmacy Partners with Research Institute to Offer Students New Research Opportunities in Clinical Trials (accessed 18 October 2016)

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