Case study

Clinical research nurse — John Bervin Galang

As a nurse, Vin's interest lies between clinical research and public health. Find out why he chose to continue his studies at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)

What course are you studying and where?

I am currently completing an MSc in Public Health (Environment and Health Stream) by distance learning at LSHTM.

Why did you decide to study part time and work full time?

To maximise my learning experience while still continuing with my professional growth. As they say, it is like hitting two birds with one stone. I find it satisfying that what I am learning at university could be transferable to my actual job role in the research facility and vice versa.

How are you balancing studying and working at the same time?

I make sure that I allocate at least one hour a day for each module. This academic year, I am currently taking four modules (three core and one elective), and every Friday and Saturday, I try to consolidate the tasks that I need to do for the course.

How did you get your job?

I moved to London in 2019 to pursue my passion, which is clinical research and public health. I had no experience in either area and so I needed to find a way to gain the skills and knowledge. As a clinician with a background in endocrinology and diabetes management, I enrolled on a short course in Clinical Research at Imperial College London where I took the Diabetes and Obesity Module for one week. That was where I met my module leader. We talked about my current role and how I wanted to progress in my career and he guided me through how I could transition to become a clinical research nurse. He showed me around the clinical research facility and told me to wait until a research nurse post opens up. When one did I grabbed the opportunity and I applied for it.

What's a typical day like as a clinical research nurse?  

At Imperial, nurses are very independent which I enjoy. We specialise in phase one and phase two studies, and as nurses we are assigned to lead these studies. This means we are responsible for setting up, running and closing a study while working with project managers, principal investigators, and sponsors. Aside from that, we maintain the facility as some other researchers and postgraduate students are also using the place to run their own self-contained studies. We help them with some clinical tasks such as venepuncture and ECG.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction? 

When I see the output and the data from our studies. For me, whatever the outcome of the research, the results are still valuable to the scientific community and if it can’t help the people of today, at least it can bring hope to the next generation.

As a bedside nurse, I only cared for seven to ten patients in a day but when I worked in clinical research, I was able to help people on an international scale especially during the pandemic. We helped to run the Oxford AstraZeneca and the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine trials. At the time when they were licensed for emergency use, in the UK and some parts of the world, I felt happy when it reached my home country, the Philippines, where vaccine equity and accessibility is a major concern.

What are the challenges?

I think the main challenge is to keep up with the expectations and the quality of work. We are all struggling at times, especially during the pandemic where staff members were getting sick and resources were limited. However this also became our motivation to persevere and continue with the work that we were doing, as we knew that not only a few people but entire countries would benefit from the output of these studies once executed and performed according to Good Clinical Practice.

In what way is your degree relevant?

More than medical statistics, epidemiology, and economics in public health, I learned to appreciate health from a population point of view. The allocation of resources, the prioritisation in risk assessments, and health policy making really are dependent on the quality of data gained and presented.

In addition, one of the electives I have chosen to take this year is the HIV module. Currently, I am a lead study nurse to an HIV-specific bNAbs trial; hence it became very timely and appropriate in my job role in the clinical research facility. Moreover, we also help run experimental medicine studies of some protein immunogens in the facility, which I find very relevant in my degree as well.

What have been your career highlights to date?

My career highlights are being part of the LSHTM Vaccine Centre (VaC) as a Student Liaison Officer (SLO) and becoming a Data Contributor in the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT). This was a great opportunity for me to be involved more in the field of public health and global health policy and it gives me a real time appreciation of what we can do as public health professionals in the future.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

My role has developed into a senior position, which includes assisting junior colleagues and leading more complex studies. I plan to be more hands on and to improve my management skills as well as the capacity to help create local health policies. My ultimate goal is to become part of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

How do I become a clinical research nurse?

To be involved in clinical research, your nursing clinical experience is really essential. It could be in general medicine, theatre, or critical care. Depending on the type of study (devices, surgery or investigational medicinal product), some research teams would be needing a nurse in their group. You do not have to have a postgraduate degree, but research related experience could be beneficial. Taking the Good Clinical Practice (GCP) course provided by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is a good start.

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