A Brand New Acronym.

A laptop showing a blank screen, notepads, and coffee mug.

Most of my regular readers will know that I studied nutrition at university and currently work in medical research, but up until this point I haven’t divulged much about what my job entails. Having just been granted a promotion after almost three years in the job, however, I decided it was time to change that.

I was originally hired in October 2018 as a Data Management Assistant (DMA), a job more varied and interesting than the title suggests. I was assigned to one trial looking at treatments for diabetic foot ulcers, and one for looking at hand eczema, although a few months later I would focus all of my attention onto the study of foot ulcers as a new trial opened up. While I rarely got to interact with patients themselves, I became strangely familiar with their anonymised profiles, as I worked through reports of their health page by page, item by item, ensuring that we had all of the information we needed and that there were no inconsistencies. Where there were problems with the data I would work with nurses, doctors, and their administrative support teams to resolve them, which due to the complexity of healthcare could be a lot trickier than I imagined.

Looking over the data was not my only responsibility, however. With the advancement of technology has come the ability to securely store medical data electronically, and each trial needs its own bespoke database to be built to store said data. Building a database from scratch is hard work, but clinical trials are also subject to a lot more change than I had expected, and thus the database is constantly undergoing updates and changes as the trial itself changes. It is also common to use similar techniques to produce programs that are capable of searching the database for particular data items, instead of having to manually pull together reports of what was needed, and creating these programs was extremely complex for someone with absolutely no knowledge of computer programming. Now I at least know what a syntax is.

The programs to highlight particular data items were essential to the other major aspect of my role; preparing data to be presented at meetings that would determine how the trial was run. This data included figures such as recruitment to the trial, the collection of primary end point data (data that answers the question the clinical trial was set up to answer), and of course the all-important safety data. It wasn’t until much more recently, however, that I got to participate in these meetings and provide the data updates myself.

My new role is the much more understandably-named Trial Coordinator (TC), and there will be a lot less sifting through individual cases, and a lot more focus on the bigger picture. I’ll be more involved with meetings that guide how the trial is run, helping to steer the changes trials undergo, and I will help design how we collect the data we need in the first place. I’ll be expected to not only identify problems but resolve them, which as someone who struggles to decide what to have in Starbucks, could prove a challenge. There will still be plenty of work on maintaining the database itself, something which I genuinely enjoy doing anyway because I’m a big nerd.

I will also be moving departments, meaning that I won’t be studying diabetic foot ulcers any more, instead focusing on things deemed to be “complex interventions” which are trickier to collect scientific data on. Since diet and nutrition often falls under this category, I must admit that I’m interested to see what current research is being undertaken even if I am not directly involved with a dietary trial. As someone naturally introverted, the change in colleagues is probably the single most daunting thing about my new role, but I at least already know several people within the team prior to transferring there.

I’ve loved being a Data Management Assistant but I’m also the type of person who can’t settle in one place for too long; I like to be on the move. Hopefully, I’ll be just as good of a Trial Coordinator…

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