The nature of the role of a Research Assistant on a Clinical Research Facility is completely different to that of a traditional health care assistant on a medical ward. It’s an incredibly busy department so, as newish recruits, you are very much thrown in at the deep end. This is no bad thing, the work of a Research Assistant is unique and there is so much to learn. Certainly you need to have a really good eye for detail and be as organised as humanly possible. But for me, being a fairly junior member of the team, I’ve found the most important thing is to ask questions, to listen and to understand as much as possible, as quickly as possible, about the department, our clients, and the sectors in which we operate.
And as the unit is currently growing – with new team members and new projects appearing on what seems like a daily basis – it is an exciting organisation to be involved with. Not that stressful of a job once you get the hang of things. You are always learning something new. It depends what studies you are assigned to. Some are very easy with the patient experiencing no side effects. Some are more complex with patients experiencing many SAEs that must be followed up. You are provided with departmental SOPs which detail your tasks at a site really well. Once you observe a few times it is easy but things always change and you must be able to adapt!
Typical the day starts at 8am when the whole workforce of the department attend the general allocation of duties meeting. All study activities are discussed and the day’s roles allocated as appropriate. Staff attending is: Lab Manager/Technicians, Data Officers, Research Assistants, Recruitment Officer, Research Nurses, Operational Support Manager, Clinical Manager, Clerical Research Assistants and Project Manager. This is also an opportunity for the team members to raise any issues or to make the team aware of any specific activities for the day, this include training sessions, study initiation meetings, etc.
For today I am assisting another research team with their study collecting samples; then a study appointment is arranged for 10.30am where I am assisting one of the unit’s Research Nurses. Following this I am attending various out-patient clinics for the purpose of volunteer recruitment. There is also a study meeting arranged for the afternoon after lunch in which all of the staff attends to discuss current unit studies and visiting studies.
The first task of the Research Assistant’s day is to perform all safety and quality checks within the unit. There are different checks, which are routinely performed on either a daily, weekly or monthly basis, which ensures the safety of staff and volunteers and also in the quality of recorded data/results.
All equipment is checked to ensure it works effectively. The emergency equipment is also checked thoroughly on a daily basis. These include: emergency trolley, hypoglycaemia box, blood glucose (BM) box and anaphylaxis box. Controlled medications are checked by the Research Nurses.
Standard equipment is also checked, which include the fridges and freezers. These are checked twice daily. They are used for storing research specific study samples and medications, all need to be kept at controlled temperatures, any deviation to these could potentially have an impact on the validity of the study data. So this is a vital task to perform and any deviations and/or problems are reported to senior members of staff and/or the Lab Manager.
After the daily duties are perform I join the visiting research team I am assisting today. These specific patients have a long standing medical condition which involves them to be seen once yearly over the length of the on-going study, they attend the department for the 3 consecutive days for this purpose. During their visit the study participants will undergo different tests/screens within the hospital. My task for today will involve venepuncture and the obtaining of blood samples needed for the evaluation of the study drug.
After completing the tasks for the research team I then have to prepare for the study visit of one of the department’s own studies. This involves going through the study planned workbook to see what data/tests needs performing and recording for the visit. Some visits are short visits, where the volunteers come in and only need to provide a routine blood sample and they have a chat with the research Medical Team to discuss any issues/observations. Other visits are a bit more involved where the volunteer stays for the whole day for various tests and procedures, this can include scheduled MRI scans, ECGs, physiotherapy appointments and psychological assessments. It all depends on the nature of the study which they volunteered for.
Today’s visit is a short visit, our volunteer is coming in for a blood draw, urine testing, ECG and general observations only and this will be done by the Research Assistant. On a regular basis I also spend time in the laboratory processing samples for specific studies. This involves using the centrifuge and protocol specific preparation of blood and study samples. Today the participant will have a discussion with the Medical Team to document all related issues for the study, after which they will be discharged from the unit.
After the study visit I attend the out-patient clinics depending on what volunteer target group is needed for studies which are either starting or on-going. Today we will be targeting the dermatology and rheumatoid arthritis clinic for studies which is currently on-going in our unit. We will also do general recruiting that involves recruitment of volunteers which are either healthy or have some medical conditions which future studies might require. If the people we talk too are interested in participating in clinical research we ask them to complete a Consent for Consent (C4C) form which allows us to send interested volunteers more information relating to current or future studies. The C4C is a database used by the research team where the volunteer’s relevant personal and medical information will be kept securely and used to recruit for studies.
After lunch I attend the study meeting which is attended by the whole research team, during this meeting information is relayed to the rest of the team regarding current studies which is performed on the unit by either our team or visiting research teams. Updates are given of progression of the studies and also future plans relating to the running of studies.
During the day the Research Assistant will also deal with relevant queries from the public and assistant all members of the team. They are also responsible for the stock orders and controlling of all medical stock that is routinely used in the unit, other tasks are preparing materials for screening visits, making up packs of consent forms, information sheets, questionnaires, archiving of completed studies and also the upkeep of the study files.
As you can see the role of the Research Assistant is extremely varied and exciting. I love my job as a Research Assistant, I love that every day is new and comes with new patients and new challenges. I love that I am expanding my knowledge and constantly learning new skills. New staff will be starting shortly and I am looking forward to acting as a resource and mentor. Leaving at the end of the day it feels like we have made a difference and potentially contributed to the bigger picture of managing and treating of diseases and other medical conditions.