March 25th, 2012

Is it Impossible to Break into Clinical Research? Debunking a Common Misperception

Several Cardiology Fellows who are attending ACC.12 this week are blogging together on CardioExchange.  The Fellows include Tariq AhmadBill CornwellMegan CoylewrightJeremiah Depta, and John Ryan (moderator). Read the previous post here. Read the next one here.

The ACC meeting can be intimidating for fellows.  With a plethora of scientific and educational sessions, trainees often feel lost and sometimes may actually get lost at the meeting.  A common misperception I hear from fellows is that only a few people do the groundbreaking research and it is impossible to “break-in” to the inner circle of scientific investigation. With the constraints of clinical training and limited access to databases, many fellows struggle to get clinical research started and/or finished during their training. Unfortunately, these early experiences with clinical research potentially dissuade people from pursuing a career in clinical investigation.

However, the ACC should inspire fellows and open the avenues available for trainees who want to become clinical investigators.  A gem in the arena of clinical research is the ACC’s National Cardiovascular Data Registry (NCDR). The opportunities to perform clinical research through the NCDR are a perfect way for fellows to launch a clinical research career. I attended a session titled “Getting Access to Data: Successful Examples from the NCDR”.  The session was chaired by Dr. Tracy Wang from DCRI and included Drs. John Rumsfeld (Chief Science Officer for the NCDR), Robert Yeh, Paul Chan, Thomas Maddox, Amy Leigh Miller, and Thomas Tsai. The session involved a panel discussion detailing their experience with NCDR. The panel included many recent graduates who shared with the audience tips on how to propose and complete a project through NCDR.  Many of the panel members were very active clinically and also from procedural fields (i.e. interventional and electrophysiology). It was very encouraging to hear their stories of success, as many of them launched their careers in clinical research through NCDR.

The NCDR now has 7 registries and a website that details the clinical variables included in each registry. Anyone, including fellows, can submit a research proposal. If accepted, the data analysis is funded and performed by DCRI and mentored through representative from NCDR. One of my first clinical research experiences was through the Get With The GuidelinesTM. The process of learning how to ask a novel, focused clinical question, working with a statistician to perform the analysis, and going through the scientific review process leading to publication was invaluable.

The session detailed several important points that I thought might be helpful:

  1. Know the variables collected in each registry and if your clinical question can be answered using those variables.  The variables collected are detailed for each registry on the NCDR website.  An example of the data collected in the ACTION Registry® – GWTG™ is linked here.
  2. Determine if your clinical question is currently being studied or has been published previously through the NCDR.
  3. Identify potential mentors who have published through NCDR on topics similar to your clinical question. The session highlighted how many of the panel members have been mentored by individuals who are not at their home institution. Seeking mentors who have a track record of success in NCDR was strongly encouraged.

A list of NCDR presentations that are being presented at ACC this year are linked here.

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