Clinical research duties bring new opportunities

The Oklahoman
December 18, 2011
By Paula Burkes
Copyright © 2011, The Oklahoma Publishing Company

A 25-year employee of Integris-Health, Julie Choate ironically found her ideal job in health care after she was let go as part of a reduction-in-force.
Choate, 45, worked in the hospital’s pharmacy and physical therapy departments. But after a two-year absence, in December 2007 she rejoined Integris in its Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute where, as a clinical research coordinator, she manages drug and device studies for heart and liver patients.

“What’s most rewarding,” Choate said, “is seeing patients who are so sick that they’re hanging on, a month later — after a heart transplant or implantable pumping device — do things they couldn’t, like shopping or even dressing themselves.”

Among her varied duties, Choate completes detailed paperwork to document that the studies meet Food and Drug Administration regulations, inputs data in databases, and counts patients’ pills to ensure they’re compliant with study parameters.

“It’s an opportunity to see science advance, and know people are being given another chance at life,” she said.

Choate is among some 35 graduates of a new associate degree program at Oklahoma City Community College, which prepares students to become clinical research coordinators.

Launched in 2009, the program consists of 69 hours; 36 of which are online. Curriculum includes basic classes in liberal arts and social studies, research design and management courses, anatomy/physiology, principles of chemistry, medical terminology, report writing and an internship. Choate met most of the requirements years ago when she had sights on physical therapy school.

“The field is very much up-and-coming,” said Kimberly Kyker, program coordinator, and biology and chemistry professor. “The National Institutes of Health and the industry, including physicians at the OU Health Sciences Center, are seeing a growing need for trained clinicians to coordinate basic research, and make certain that research translates to the bedside.”

About one-third of her graduates have gone directly to work, Kyker said, while another third have gone on to a bachelor’s program in clinical research and another third to nursing school. A degree in clinical research opens up greater employment avenues for nurses, she said.

Sharla Lister went straight to work as a clinical research coordinator. She’d completed an eight-week internship with the Lynn Institute in Oklahoma City, which immediately hired her upon her graduation a year ago.

“I like the atmosphere,” said Lister, 36, of Chickasha. Before going back to school, the married mother of two teenagers worked five years making lenses for safety goggles at a 3M factory in Chickasha before it closed.

At the Lynn Institute, Lister primarily screens potential participants on the phone and in person for clinical trials of pharmaceuticals to treat rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, depression and other diseases.

The future work of the clinical research coordinators will involve much more than pills, Kyker said, pointing to robotic limbs that are helping wheelchair-bound soldiers to walk again and implanted stem cells that grew new cardiac tissue in a heart attack victim, bringing him from near death to playing basketball with his grandkids.

“That’s the coolest thing,” Kyker said. “That’s the type of research that turns me on. It’s fascinating.”