May 20th marks Clinical Trials Day (CTD), an international commemoration of James Lind’s launch of the scurvy clinical trial on May 20, 1747, which would form the foundation for modern clinical research. Celebrated for the first time in 2005, CTD raises clinical trial awareness and honors clinical research professionals across the globe. In celebration of this distinguished occasion, we’ve continued our three-year tradition of inviting SOCRA Members to nominate each other for their outstanding work and contributions to public health, medical advancement, and improved health outcomes. We caught up with our first 2021 nominee to uncover her thoughts and insights on the significance of CTD and the clinical research industry as a whole.
Meet our first SOCRA CTD 2021 nominee
Laura Holtz, MS, PMP, CCRP, is an active SOCRA Board Member and the first to receive a nomination in 2021 for her dedication to the clinical research industry. She joined SOCRA in 2010 after earning her certification and earned a spot as a SOCRA Annual Conference Speaker in 2015. For the last several years, Laura has continued participating in SOCRA conferences, including her role as a closing plenary speaker. She helped found the SOCRA Indianapolis Chapter and was elected to the SOCRA Board of Directors in 2018. At the end of her term in September, Laura will be up for reelection as treasurer. She has recently transitioned to a new role as Clinical Research Leader, Project Manager at Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics.
Having stumbled into a clinical research position 15 years ago after serving as a teacher, Laura admits she’s fallen in love with the work because of the direct impact she’s helping to make on public health.
“There’s such energy around research! I enjoy being part of the collaboration and think-tank that discovers, innovates, and stays agile enough to find the answers that change lives. I enjoy working as part of a team where we’re all in it together.”
When asked if she’d lend us her perspective on CTD 2021, Laura enthusiastically agreed, saying, “SOCRA and Clinical Trials Day are dear to my heart – this is a chance to celebrate the hard work of the professionals who are the doers in many trials. May 20th gives us a forum to recognize each other and celebrate together.”
And with our gratitude to Laura, let’s begin our celebration of the doers with the core values that bind our clinical research community together.
CTD Celebrates our shared values
The clinical research community is highly varied as reflected in SOCRA’s membership. Data collectors, research coordinators, site managers, institutional review board (IRB) members, and many other hard-working clinical research professionals bring a unique perspective and skillset to the table.
While diverse in their backgrounds and expertise, Laura notes that the entire community shares several core values that drive the industry – and our humanity – forward, including:
CTD provides the opportunity to celebrate these shared values that bind us together. It deepens and renews our promise to continually evolve and improve clinical trial and research methodologies for the greater good. And perhaps no other event in recent history has called on our industry to demonstrate our commitment to these values more than COVID-19.
Lessons and revelations from the COVID-19 pandemic
Some of Laura’s research centers on behavioral studies in nursing homes, giving her a unique perspective on the pandemic’s impact on our vulnerable aging population.
“With isolation, fear, and grief abound, COVID-19 has been taxing on nursing home residents. As an industry, we began to better understand how to support this sector with vaccines and disease mitigation – and also compassion. In my work, we discovered the human value in shifting our processes to compassionately connect deeper with participants, even if only over Zoom.”
In looking back on the past year, the pandemic revealed something Laura has always known – the clinical research industry is strikingly nimble. “Our industry has the infrastructure, expertise, and empathy to pivot quickly when needed,” Laura said. “Pivoting is what we’ve done in our work, and it’s what hundreds of other professionals are doing every day in response to this outbreak.”
The result of this exceptional level of nimbleness led to the revolutionary COVID-19 vaccine trials that culminated in groundbreaking discoveries that are helping to save lives at this very moment.
CTD 2021 celebration ideas
When asked how she’ll celebrate CTD 2021, Laura shared that she loves reflecting on the mentors who have influenced her career and helped her become the leader and researcher she is today. She is also known to contribute to recognition programming to deepen the impact of this day on the hard-working doers.
“On Clinical Trials Day, I like to say thank you to those who have helped me along the way,” Laura shared. “In pre-COVID times, we’d throw a celebration with food, trivia, and posters to celebrate everyone’s great work.”
While CTD 2021 may not allow for large gatherings, there are plenty of other ways to safely celebrate fellow SOCRA members and other clinical research professionals, such as:
- Nominate an exceptional SOCRA Member
- Send postcards or hand-written notes
- Frame a thank-you certificate
- Give a small gift or gift card
- Order takeout lunch or invite a food truck
- Host a virtual gathering
- Recognize staff on your organization’s website or social media platforms
- Pass out company swag bags
- Express verbal appreciation
However small or large, the sheer act of recognizing your colleague’s contributions can help lift our clinical research community to deserving new heights.
“Clinical research is a 365 day-a-year job,” Laura added. “It’s not fun to work Christmas Day, as some of our recruiters do, so it’s wonderful to recognize everyone’s hard work – to essentially say, ‘we see you, we thank you, and you’re making a difference.’ That gesture can mean the world to someone.”
CTD calls for industry-wide reflection
Besides recognizing the hard-working doers, CTD is also a time to reflect on the clinical research industry to acknowledge how far it has come. For Laura, she appreciates how much the industry has evolved over the last few years through the help of SOCRA resources that provide members easy access to:
Robust professional networks – It used to be that research teams would be dispersed, often working in silos. There wasn’t a simple way to connect clinical professionals with varied skillsets as one cohesive unit. Through SOCRA’s robust membership network, research teams now have direct access to others willing to give their time and knowledge to help each other become successful. Laura said that she’s never found a SOCRA Member who wasn’t “110%” willing to offer advice when she needed it.
Career-enhancing training – Laura recalls starting in the clinical research industry 15 years ago with few training opportunities to learn the ropes or advance her career. Through SOCRA’s conferences and education and highly recognized certification programs, members can learn the latest best practices, standards, and core competencies at no cost.
The future of the clinical research industry
CTD also provides the opportunity to look ahead. As with everything in science, the clinical research industry is changing quickly, and it’s hard to predict where it will go. Laura gave us her perspective on the key themes she anticipates in the years ahead.
Technology and innovation
While she admits the best strategy will sometimes be boots on the ground, Laura believes that technology and innovation will continue to play an integral role in moving the industry forward. “We’ve changed things so dramatically with COVID-19. We used to do a lot of hands-on, in-person interaction,” she said. “Now, it’s more remote with text messages, electronic consent forms, and Zoom calls.”
However, those aren’t the only technologies Laura foresees.
Laura speculates that natural language processing technology may help clinical researchers expand beyond their region to find eligible participants in the future.
In the clinical research industry, there’s a continuous pull between humanity and urgency. “Our job in the future is to figure out how these two ideas can work together to avoid staff burnout. As we saw with COVID-19 frontline workers, this is a high-paced, high-stress, high-reward industry, and we need to take care of each other.” Laura said.
While she shies away from the term “work-life balance,” Laura recognizes the importance of a human-centered approach for managing clinical research teams, acknowledging that staff turnover due to burnout can create problems with ongoing research and care. “The question that we’re asking now is, ‘How are we going to ensure the work is done, but also put the employee first to maintain consistency?’ The answer is becoming part of a larger conversation to determine the appropriate level of work expectations to help teams be successful,” Laura added.
Advice for aspiring clinical researchers
With more attention on CTD and the widespread media coverage on COVID-19 vaccine trials, the clinical research industry is getting its day in the sun, fueling suspicions of a surging interest in joining the profession. And because clinical research is so multifaceted, Laura believes there is a position or role that fits everyone, so her advice is to get involved and join the mission to make a real difference.
“This is one of the most diverse professions for all types of people. Whether you’re drawn to biostatistics, project management, recruitment, programming, or another role, you belong here. What other profession offers that?”
Laura noted the various perks of joining the clinical research industry. Beyond advancing medical and health outcomes, many people in the field will find themselves in a room with renowned national expert doctors from recognized institutions like Mayo Clinic. “These are ‘rockstar’ people, and they value your contributions,” Laura said. “There’s a spot for every person, and every role matters.”
As a seasoned industry professional, Laura mentioned how rewarding it is for her to train and mentor incoming clinical research staff. “I love passing the torch to the next generation of researchers – just seeing the excitement through their eyes is a joyful reminder that we are all doing something extraordinary,” she said.