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Celebrating ‘Coordinator Intelligence:’ The Eighth Annual CRC RE@CH Awards

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May 19, 2021
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The Eighth Annual CRC RE@CH Awards

Celebrating clinical research coordinators’ superpowers with the Eighth Annual CRC RE@CH Awards.

DROSEYB [at] chop.edu (By Barbara Drosey)

Knowing the superpowers our clinical research coordinators (CRCs) possess at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, it’s no surprise they adapted to every pandemic-related change with grace to keep research moving forward, even as much of the world came to a halt.

The Clinical Research Coordinator RE@CH Awards held virtually May 12 celebrate the outstanding accomplishments of study coordinators and research managers which were put to an even greater test this year with the pandemic. Speakers appeared on-screen to share their appreciation for the CRCs and research managers, and a specially created event video with a light-hearted tone illustrated all the ways CRCs met the ever-evolving research landscape created by the SARS-CoV-2 crisis.

“They organized revised screening documents, followed evolving ramp-up guidance, and left the comfort of their homes to greet our research participants, who themselves were nervous and unsure of what to expect,” said Debbie Kawchak, MS, RDN, CCRP, clinical research team manager and chair of the CRC RE@CH Awards Committee, who opened the Eight Annual awards ceremony. “Our research coordinators navigated this path to keep our patients safe and our studies in compliance.”

Richard Aplenc, MD, PhD, MSCE, assistant vice present and chief clinical research officer, described the event as an opportunity to recognize the outstanding work all CRCs are doing, which he noted is deeply appreciated by leaders and researchers.

“This year there are more than 30 nominees [for the CRC RE@CH Award], the high point for the number of nominations in the context of this program, which is not surprising considering the agility, flexibility and creativity demonstrated in the past year,” Dr. Aplenc said. “All of the nominees represent our extraordinary talent across many departments at CHOP. We also want to recognize the dedicated coordinators who, even if not nominated, are doing exceptional work — day in and day out. We have been able to continue our impactful research because of your extraordinary efforts that are integral to clinical and translational work.”

Highlighting Coordinator Intelligence

Chelsea Ward McIntosh, MS, CCRP, research project manager, introduced this year’s keynote speaker, Flaura Winston, MD, PhD, founder and scientific director, Center for Injury Research and Prevention.

“Dr. Winston is one of those PIs who respects every team member’s contributions, from the brand-new student to the seasoned program manager, and helps them achieve their personal and professional goals,” McIntosh said. “She truly values the whole team due to her respect for the many roles and functions of research coordinators, which is why I asked her to join us today.”

Calling upon her own work in which she studies pediatric injury prevention, particularly related to car crashes, Dr. Winston offered that research ultimately is run by “CI: Coordinator Intelligence.” Like the artificial intelligence (AI) that informs innovations such as autonomous vehicles, CI denotes the autonomous research enabled by CRCs’ expertise and skill. CRCs keep research running by navigating the behind-the-scenes elements that make the process go smoothly for principal investigators, patients, and families.

“Much like autonomous cars have sensors, you are the sensors — you collect the data, you're the eyes, ears, and hands of research,” Dr. Winston said. Sometimes her projects head into unforeseen and innovative directions based on the subject interviews and data collection led by research coordinators and managers.

The most important part of CI is “crash” prevention, Dr. Winston noted, as CRCs keep track of regulations of human subjects, safety, and adverse events.

“The research coordinators and research managers for every one of my studies are my integral partners,” Dr. Winston said. “Without you, I would not have accomplished the work that I have. Thank you for making my research run and for keeping me from crashing.”

And the Winners are ….

This year, the award honored the profession of clinical research by selecting two outstanding individuals who exemplify the qualities and values it takes to excel at the clinical research process at CHOP.

Nancy Burnham, CRNP, MSN, CCRC

Nancy Burnham, CRNP, MSN, CCRC, CRC RE@CH Award Honoree

Nancy Burnham, CRNP, MSN, CCRC, is a cardiothoracic surgery clinical research coordinatornominated by J. William Gaynor, MD, Daniel M. Tabas Endowed Chair in Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery. With a 27-year history at CHOP, Burnham is known for her extraordinary memory of interactions with research subjects and their families.

“This is a lovely honor,” Burnham said. “I'm so grateful to Bill and all of our team for the work we participate in every day.”

Burnham has worked with some longitudinal cohorts for more than 20 years, and she always is sensitive to research participants’ stress, ensuring that any concerns that arise during a study are addressed to meet their comfort level. Her clinical background in cardiac intensive care affords Burnham a unique perspective. In addition to her personalized care and coordination, Burnham has shown her talents as an excellent supervisor and guard of data integrity.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to recognize Nancy's considerable contributions to our research projects and to our research families,” Dr. Gaynor said. “Nancy's most defining characteristic is her dedication to our research subjects and families. Her commitment to conducting the best research is a payback for their willingness to participate in the study and to allow us to try to gain knowledge from them.”

Dr. Gaynor added that Burnham’s dedication extends to research trainees who she helps guide through their early careers.

“Nancy is an incredible mentor,” Dr. Gaynor said. “I cannot tell you how happy I am that she is receiving this award, how much she means to our program, our research team and, most importantly, to our research subjects and their families.”

Stephanie Tuman, MA

Stephanie Tuman, MA, CRC RE@CH Award Honoree

Stephanie Tuman, MA, is a clinical research coordinator II nominated by Stephen Leff, PhD, co-director for the Center for Violence Prevention, co-director of the Health and Behavior Research Affinity Group at CHOP, and Professor of Clinical Psychology in Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“It's amazing to have been chosen for this award,” Tuman said. “I am so grateful to my leadership for nominating me and the team that I work with for supporting me in the work that we do. Our research is strongly rooted in school and community partnerships, which is unique within a hospital setting. It feels wonderful to have our work recognized and encouraged by CHOP at an institutional level.”

Tuman serves as a school/community liaison and program champion for schools within the School District of Philadelphia as part of a 40-school clinical trial that aims to develop and implement prevention programs for school-based aggression and bullying. This role requires skills and finesse to seamlessly switch between working with investigators, counselors, teachers, and children, and then translate research to them in a meaningful way.

“Stephanie is one of the most passionate, enthusiastic folks that we've ever had the pleasure to work with,” Dr. Leff said. “As Dr. Winston said, she has a high level of ‘coordinator intelligence,’ and her commitment and motivation are easy to see. She serves as a champion point person for upwards of 15 schools a year for managing all the research tasks behind the scenes. I never worry about the integrity of the data because she puts systems in place to make sure that our data is clean, double checked, and that we can all be comfortable with it.”

In addition to her meticulous compliance, data integrity, organizational skills, and accuracy, Tuman serves as a role model for others on her research team. This was especially important over the past year, as the team worked closely to ensure that children could benefit from the team’s programs in a remote way. Tuman builds a positive environment that ensures everyone’s success, such as through a "Shout Out" system she started to recognize team members who have gone above and beyond.

Research From Both Sides

Eileen Ford, MS, RDN, FAND, CHPS administrative manager, introduced a new twist on a regular segment of the CRC RE@CH Award celebration. While the event typically includes a patient and family who have participated in research, this year’s research participant was Sarah Joergensen, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, who shared that she was diagnosed with an unusual presentation of sickle cell anemia, type SD, at a young age. In addition to regular care and hospitalizations to manage her sickle cell disease, Joergensen participated in a phase III clinical research study.

“My CRC helped onboard me to the study, scheduled visits around school and work, and now I know my way inside and out of Buerger and Seashore House,” she said. “The clinical and research team always had my back and made sure I never missed a dose of my meds, even when the whole world was shutting down.”

Joergensen had an opportunity to do research on the clinical side with nutrition studies, and she enjoyed getting to see what goes on behind the scenes as a research team member, instead of as a patient. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience, Joergensen is looking forward to starting a position at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center as a research coordinator and continuing to work per diem as non-traditional personnel with Virginia A. Stallings, MD, director of the Nutrition Center at CHOP.