John – Clinical Trial Coordinator

Are you interested in working in a healthcare setting, making a difference and helping to improve people’s lives? Could you handle managing large numbers of people and even larger amounts of data? If you could, then read John’s profile to see why he enjoys working in Clinical Trials and if this could be the job for you too.

What attracted you to this job?

I’ve always been interested in health and having the opportunity to do a job in which I felt I was making a difference was really appealing. I first worked as a Data Manager in Haematology but then got my current job as a Trial Coordinator for a clinical trial in melanoma (skin cancer).

What does your typical day involve?

Well, I run a UK wide multi-centre randomised controlled trial in melanoma. It is extremely busy as we have over 1000 patients on the trial and almost 50 hospitals in England, Wales & Scotland recruiting the patients for the trial. I spend a lot of time answering queries from the research staff at each of the hospitals and ensuring the patients are eligible to enter the trial. So a lot of my work is about effective communication.

I also coordinate the translational aspect of the trial. This involves the collection of tissue samples (from the surgery the patients have had before entering the trial) and blood samples. These are then sent for analysis and the hope is that new markers (proteins and genes) can be identified which are involved in the process of tumour angiogenesis (cancer cells need new blood vessels to grow).

I also produce newsletters to promote the trial, and have to do a lot of data querying. This involves checking the data is correct on forms called Case Report Forms (CRFs). CRFs are used in trials to capture the information necessary to help tell us the results of the study.

I also get the chance to attend conferences to learn about other trials happening in the field of melanoma and write annual reports summing up the progress of the trial.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

The feeling that I am contributing something to helping improve our understanding in cancer and melanoma. I also think I am quite well suited to the ‘coordinator’ role and enjoy organising the running of the trial and working with others to get the work done. When I first started I had no real knowledge of melanoma but now I can read pathology reports and help others understand them which is satisfying.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

Before working in clinical trials I didn’t quite understand what they were and was probably a bit wary of them. I knew that you may be offered to go on trial if you were ill, and had cancer for example, but now I see them as part of normal health care and understand the value of them.

People often say, ‘I couldn’t do your job’ when I explain that the trial is looking at trying to improve the survival chances of people with melanoma, because cancer is quite a scary thing. I don’t always see it like that though, it may be a bad thing but because I am in the office with a lot of paperwork you sometimes don’t see the real impact of what your work is contributing to and if anything, I put a positive spin on things and believe that the results of the trial will help inform future care for melanoma patients.

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

Work is pretty much 9am-5pm although we do get calls earlier or later than this and there have been periods when the work has been really busy because there has been problems with the supply of the drug we use for the trial. One of us has to always be in the office as well so that we can answer calls so we try to arrange our holiday at different times.

How did you get to where you are today?

I studied the International Baccalaureate at school and then went to university to do a degree in Sports Science and followed that up with two Masters degrees; one in Sport Sociology and one in Human Nutrition. The second one wasn’t planned but it helped me get my first job! I worked for the Medical Research Council Human Nutrition Unit as a Research Assistant for 2 years and after being offered a PhD and deciding it wasn’t the right choice for me I moved into Clinical Trials. I’m really pleased I did as I am still working in a science related field and can see options for career progression.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

I don’t have any patient contact but you can choose that route if it is something that appeals to you. You could work as a clinical trial facilitator for example. These positions sometimes involve meeting patients and speaking to them about the trial. It also depends what type of trial it is.

I would recommend reading up about clinical trials before going for an interview and finding out about the different phases of trials. I run a phase III trial. It would be good to show a potential employer that you have read a bit about Good Clinical Practice (GCP) as well. You get training in this when you start working in trials but it is important and underpins all work so it would be advantageous to show some understanding of it.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

The first route into clinical trials might be working as a data manager where you could expect to earn £21,000. As you progress, a trial coordinator might expect to earn £25-27,000 depending on the organization you are working for.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

I enjoy playing football and generally keeping fit. It helps me switch off and feel ‘energized’. I was lucky enough to live in France very close to a ski resort when I was younger and learnt how to ski. Running keeps me going when the football season is not on!

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

I wouldn’t say embarrassing, but having not done a medical degree I don’t always know the name of a drug or a medical condition when I take phone calls from nurses. Google is for ever helpful though! I also have to be quite careful not to make mistakes when telling doctors/nurses if a patient is eligible to enter the trial. If we have too many ineligible patients, not only does it compromise their safety but also compromises the scientific validity of the study.