Charting the course for the next generation of Clinical Research Coordinators

This Teachers’ Day, we speak with two SCRI Academy trainers – Tan Siew Hoon and Eric Seow – to find out why they took the path less travelled to develop education programmes for Clinical Research Coordinators (CRCs).

From storytelling, crafting quizzes, facilitating thought-provoking role-play scenarios, to getting thrown unexpected questions these are just some of the ways our SCRI Academy trainers facilitate learning and contribute to the continuing development of CRCs in Singapore.

The SCRI Academy team: [L-R] Eric Seow, Loh Xinyi, Tan Siew Hoon, Stella Goh, Yang Yayun, Dr Gao Hong

Lots to learn and lots to teach

CRCs play a pivotal role in strengthening the clinical trial landscape in Singapore. However, the role of CRCs is varied with lots to learn and many encounter a steep learning curve early in their career.

When SCRI Academy was launched five years ago, Siew Hoon, who was working on research monitoring at SCRI, was asked to consider becoming a trainer at the Academy. She took it up in an instant.

When asked why, she recalled an inspiring supervisor she met early in her career who was passionate about mentoring and developing others. 

“I am immensely grateful to my former supervisor for her guidance and the time she dedicated to train me when I was still a junior staff. It left a deep impression and to pay it forward, I mentor many juniors in my department. Imparting skills to others have become a part of me,” she added.

Eric, on the other hand, has had prior experience as a CRC. He spent his early career running clinical trials at hospitals. Prior to joining SCRI Academy as a clinical research associate and trainer, he was an operations manager for clinical trials at an academic institution.

He shared: “I was heavily involved in both the planning and operational aspects of clinical trials and I hope to share what I have learnt to help CRCs develop new skills and become better at what they do.”

“CRCs are the ones fronting clinical trials and laying the groundwork, such as pre-screening participants, patient recruitment and orientating them on study procedures. With time, their experiences shape how effectively they deal with challenging participants and scenarios. Therefore, in our training programmes, we develop different scenarios for participants to explore ways to approach issues they may face at work,” said Eric.

“What inspires me most is the students’ enthusiasm to want to learn more about clinical trials and research. Some come to the class with a list of questions on technical aspects such as the patient consent process, or questions on soft skills like time and team management. We are constantly reviewing our CRC programmes to best address their training needs,” said Siew Hoon.

Teaching has also kept them agile in adapting lesson plans to pivot online. During the Circuit Breaker in April 2020, in-person training courses were put on hold and CRCs could no longer return to the hospitals or recruit patients for clinical studies.

Within three months, Eric, together with the SCRI Academy team, came up with ideas to introduce an e-learning series. This bite-sized programme is now available on the SCRI website as a self-help resource for CRCs.

The COVID-19 pandemic also brought vast change to how clinical trials are conducted globally. Previously, the whole process was done mainly in-person – from recruiting participants to arranging follow-up appointments and study follow-up. However, the pandemic accelerated the shift to adopt remote practices. This has enabled more convenience for trial participants as they reduced the time needed to travel to the study site.

Siew Hoon teaching in one of the virtual CRC training programmes.

“Due to the pandemic, there have been new developments in how CRCs take informed consent, conduct remote investigator meetings, study visits, or have their studies be remotely monitored and inspected. We have introduced these latest developments into our courses and we also ask the class to share their experiences in their respective institutions,” said Siew Hoon.

“Trainers learn from CRCs too. As a trainer, I need to be open to feedback and stay up to date to ensure what I teach remains relevant to the attendees. I also enjoy coming up with mini games to keep lessons fun and engaging, especially in the virtual space,” said Eric.

Nurturing a community of CRCs

When asked what they are working on next, Siew Hoon and Eric shared that the Academy team is planning to grow the CRC community in Singapore. The Academy recently launched a few initiatives for CRC graduates who have attended the training programmes, such as a newsletter on industry trends and providing free access to webinars from accredited clinical research training providers.

CIRCLE: a newly launched newsletter for CRCs by SCRI Academy

“I hope CRCs can unite as a community so that they can become a strong support network, share best practices from their organisations and learn from one another,” said Siew Hoon.

“We are also looking to set up a CRC educator group to nurture the next generation of CRCs who can become trainers one day,” she added.

The SCRI Academy was launched in August 2017 to serve as Singapore’s national learning and development platform for CRCs. To date, SCRI Academy has trained close to 300 CRCs from the public healthcare institutions and aims to train 100 CRCs per year.

In 2019, the Academy launched the Distinguished Contributor Award for CRCs to recognise outstanding CRCs for their commitment, dedication and significant contributions to the profession and clinical research community.

Both Siew Hoon and Eric agree that it is fulfilling to see CRCs advance professionally and grow more confident in facilitating increasingly complex clinical trials. This includes the managing of investigator-initiated trials which require more ground-up coordination and administrative work such as budget drafting, ensuring regulatory compliance, as well as managing study logistics and initiation.

“We have CRCs who attended our Level 1 course and came back to attend our Levels 2 and 3 programmes. They shared that the courses were well-planned, well-executed with relevant scenarios from the role play sessions that they can apply to their work I am thankful that I can develop others and improve myself through teaching others,” said Siew Hoon

“The future of the clinical trials landscape demands for CRCs to be resourceful, creative and quick-thinking on their feet. Developing the curriculum and training CRCs creates an enriching environment for trainers and participants to learn and grow together, as we do our part to enhance the research landscape in Singapore,” said Eric.

Happy Teachers’ Day to all SCRI Academy Trainers and partners!

Both Siew Hoon and Eric teach the CRC Levels 1 and 2 courses, while Siew Hoon also teaches in the newly launched Level 3 course.

These courses aim to support CRCs in continuous professional development, from equipping junior CRCs with skills to manage increasingly complex clinical trials, to leadership training for more seasoned CRCs.

In the CRC Level 1 course designed for CRCs with less than a year into the job, Siew Hoon and Eric take them through the basics of conducting clinical trials to give them a good grasp of study protocols, day-to-day operations in coordinating clinical trials and research administrative tasks such as submitting documents to the Institutional Review Board (IRB). They also share soft skills and tips on how CRCs can better support their investigators as CRCs.

In the Level 2 course, they equip intermediate CRCs with core skills in project management, and how to coordinate multi-centre investigator-initiated clinical research, from drafting protocol, reviewing research agreements, sourcing clinical research material and vendor management, to setting up study plans, SOPs and many more.

In the Level 3 course tailored for senior CRCs, the course curriculum focuses on advanced skills in conducting clinical research and leadership training.

For more information on SCRI Academy’s courses, click here.

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