As the region’s leading academic health center, part of our mission to is advance medicine and public health through high-quality, patient-oriented research. To that end, clinical research coordinators and managers play a critical role in this process at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville. In this series, we highlight how their work extends from the lab to the bedside to advance health care and impact patients’ lives.
Brianna Rivers began her career journey at UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville in 2018 as an intern research assistant. With a degree in exercise science, her sights were set on becoming a physical therapist or personal trainer. Working under Fern J. Webb, PhD, an associate professor and co-director of the Center for Health Equity and Engagement Research, she learned how research could help transform people’s lives.
“When I interned alongside Dr. Webb, she showed me what research was really about,” Rivers said.
Three years later, she now serves as a level two clinical research coordinator for the department of pediatrics. Rivers can still recall the first trial she worked on – The Health-Smart for Weight Loss study. The study evaluated the effectiveness of a culturally sensitive, multi-component behavioral weight loss program targeting obesity among Black women. Now, she acts as the liaison between patients enrolled in clinical trials and the principal investigators conducting them.
Building trust through education
Having worked on numerous studies, Rivers has found the key to a successful trial goes beyond research surveys and samples. It starts with prioritizing patients.
“It’s important to connect with each patient, so they understand you are looking out for their best interest, and this research is benefitting them,” Rivers said.
Approaching potential patient candidates regarding a study is a task that requires great skill in bedside manner. In some cases, coordinators encounter patients after they have received unwelcome news concerning their health. By establishing trust, they can address the hesitancy many people have toward the individual trial or research in its entirety.
“The conversation can go many different ways,” Rivers said. “I’ve had some patients that get dejected after answering survey questions; others want to share how their life experiences brought them to this point and then there are those who are willing to take part immediately.”
Some patient-coordinator discussions can last 45 minutes to two hours, reviewing study requirements, risk factors, survey questions and consent forms. Although developing a healthy relationship with study participants takes time, Rivers notes those are the moments to listen and educate people on the positive and sometimes immediate impact research can have on their health.
Duties of a research coordinator
In addition to working with patients, coordinators have a host of administrative responsibilities to ensure each study is successful. Once Rivers is assigned her daily study, you can find her scheduling patient visits, entering data, updating study logs, or completing the necessary paperwork to keep studies on course. One of the highlights of her job, “Having the opportunity to work with different demographics of people in various clinics throughout UF Health’s patient care network,” Rivers said.
Career in research
In the fourth semester of her general health sciences master’s program, Rivers values the influence research has made in her own life. As she builds her career, she is confident that she will be in research long-term and hopes to make a longstanding impact on people’s lives and their health.
“I fell in love with research,” said Rivers. “It’s both innovative and helpful. It’s like I can give back and learn at the same time.”
For those on the same career path, she recommends joining a program where the primary focus is finding solutions for the patient. Rivers says the data matters, the science matters, but the patient should always come first, similar to the standard employed by UF Health Jacksonville and the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville.
The UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville has attained national recognition for its role as a leader in transformative, cutting-edge research. Among physicians and scientists, the institution is known for fostering a rich, collaborative environment that fuels discovery and encourages creativity. Research is centered around changing lives. Visit med.jax.ufl.edu/research/ for more information.