Interview and article by Tatsiana “Tanya” Verstak
This interview is part of our new series where we interview notable clinical researchers, others in the field, and companies about innovative new services.
We begin today with Elizabeth Weeks-Rowe from San Diego. Ms. Weeks-Rowe has 17 years of research experience, including work as a CRA Trainer, Manager, and Writer. She has been an ACRP CCRA since 2004, and written for Centerwatch Weekly, Clinical Researcher magazine, and ACRP Wire. She also authored 2016 updates to The CRAs Guide to Monitoring Clinical Research (Centerwatch). She is interviewed here by Tatsiana “Tanya” Verstak, M.S., a Pharm.D. Candidate at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).
How did you become a clinical researcher?
I was a flight attendant for two years before I went to nursing school. After working as a nurse, I applied for a job at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, as I needed a nursing career change. The recruiter with whom I spoke started the discussion about research, and that is where I walked out of the application process as a coordinator. I went in to apply for a nursing job– and walked out as a study coordinator.
What changes have you seen in clinical research and the CRA’s role over the years?
Elizabeth. There have been so many changes. I started as a Study Coordinator at Scripps Clinic in San Diego when electronic data collection (EDC) really sparked. It was exciting to have systems transform from paper to primarily electronic clinical research forms (eCRFs). I had to take an EDC dedicated laptop and my usual laptop to site visits, but now things have become a lot more streamlined with web-based EDC systems, risk-based monitoring, and electronic informed consent forms.
I recently spoke in a webinar regarding my experience monitoring between electronic and paper informed consent forms. I also wrote the 2016 update to The CRAs Guide to Monitoring Clinical Research (Centerwatch), and discussed how electronic consent forms can eliminate some of the errors like missing pages, and more fully engage clinical trial participants because systems have hyperlinks that can give study participants more education about the study.
What excites you professionally?
Elizabeth. Meeting people. I have a short attention span, but I have never been bored once in this industry. I work on pre-study visits. This week I was in Boston, but flew back to Orange County, CA and got to talk to one site about one thing, and then I was at Tufts in Boston, then UC Irvine in Southern California. I love what I do, and I get to write about my experiences. I get to help companies select good research sites to advance medicine.
Your Bio describes you as a clinical research trainer/writer. Can you tell us more?
Elizabeth. I love to write, and have the good fortune of being able to do a lot of writing in my career. I published a clinical research novella, Clinical Research Trials and Triumphs and did the 2016 revisions to The CRAs Guide to Monitoring Clinical Research (CenterWatch). I have met neat editors who have given me opportunities to write, and I’ve been writing clinical research columns since 2012. Writing is a passion — you want to write your thoughts down and what you know is your best advice. I have also done a lot of clinical research training, including some in-class positions.
Do you feel that there is a training gap in clinical research? What do you see as the biggest training needs in clinical research?
Elizabeth. I do not feel that there is a training gap in clinical research. Although training can always improve, the training opportunities out there are fantastic, and they are getting so much better. Now universities offer graduate degree programs such as Master’s in Regulatory Affairs, whereas when I started there was nothing like that except for certificate programs from university extensions. There is also more emphasis today on the importance of training and providing refreshers, and the opportunities are growing. For example, I sometimes train for Clinical Research Fastrack, a company that even offers internships to help place people.
It’s often said that there is a shortage of clinical researchers. Do you agree?
Elizabeth. I do not have a lot of data to support my opinion, except that in the CRA world, it seems that there are way more jobs than people to fill them. Any industry needs educated, smart, and fresh people who are excited. I worked for a company that hired college students who had science degree backgrounds and would train them to be in-house monitors. I interviewed one of the top candidates on our list, and he…is one of the most dynamic and interesting people I have worked with. That’s what we need. Nothing comes easy; you have to try, then the flood gates open.
Have you observed a lot of turnover in clinical research? Do you have any opinions on this?
Elizabeth. I have observed a high turnover with coordinators, and I don’t think they get the pay they deserve because they work so hard and institutions can only pay what they can. I think they work harder than the pay they receive because income at the site level does not compensate for the tasks they are expected to do.
For CRAs, every company has great and terrible parts and it depends on the situation you are in. Some CRAs travel Saturday through Friday and do not say anything, or they have said something, but it hasn’t helped, so they end up leaving companies because of their poor quality of life. You can work for a company as a CRA I and love it, but if a CRA II position becomes available with a higher pay, people tend to leave for this. I do think staying at a good company and having a solid work history is important in the end.
At the end of the day, it’s all about how you take care of yourself. But let’s be honest, clinical research is definitely not your typical 9-5 job.
You wrote a novella. How did this come about?
Elizabeth. I wanted to write a book because when I applied for a nursing job and walked out as a site coordinator, I didn’t know what that meant. The recruiter asked me if I knew clinical research, and I thought of Albert Einstein, so I said “no”, but she still asked me if I wanted to work there. I am always curious and want to learn stuff, and it was the wildest ride ever since I took over for a study coordinator that had quit 6 months prior. The Principal Investigator was great, and the monitor was with me the first week. She taught me a ton, but it was still super scary and I almost quit, but I went through that experience and a lot of coordinators also go through the same thing. So my book, Clinical Research Trials and Triumphs, is a work of fiction because the character is based on collective experiences from all the coordinators I met and how they started their careers.
Would you encourage other clinical researchers to write about their experiences?
Elizabeth. Telling our personal stories is important for our readers because they can remember hearing experiences when they can relate to them. That’s how we network, educate, learn, grow, and get the next job, study, whatever. I think sharing our stories is critical to our development, job progression, and everything else.
Please cite this article as follows: Verstak,Tatsiana. “Spotlight: Clinical Researcher Elizabeth Weeks-Rowe, LVN, CCRA.” Clinical Research Currents. April 11, 2018. http://clinicalresearchcurrents.com/elizabeth-weeks-rowe-lvn-ccra/