November 18th, 2013

How to Have a Solid Foundation in Clinical Research and Data Analysis

Several Cardiology Fellows who are attending AHA.13 in Dallas this week are blogging for CardioExchange. The Fellows include Vimal RamjeeSiqin YeSeth MartinReva Balakrishnan, and  Saurav Chatterjee. You can find the previous post here. For more of our AHA.13 coverage of late-breaking clinical trials, interviews with the authors of the most important research, and blogs from our fellows on the most interesting presentations at the meeting, check out our AHA.13 Headquarters.

Several early-career individuals have been confounded by the question of how to get a good foundation in the basics of handling and analyzing data to arrive at meaningful and relevant conclusions. Having been tormented by this difficulty and, to this day, needing more experienced and advanced counsel, I thought a primer on how to set oneself up for a career in clinical research would help other fellows.

I had the chance to talk one-on-one with Dharam Kumbhani, MD, SM, MRCP, of UT Southwestern in Dallas, who has dispensed similar advice over the years and who has had a productive career in outcomes research. He is also the Clinical Trials Team Leader of, the educational portal of the American College of Cardiology, where he  reviews many late- breaking clinical trials and presents his perspective on the pluses and minuses in a forum widely read by the academic cardiology community. He recently won the Junior Faculty award at the Northwestern University Young Investigator Forum.

In 2004, he had written an essay for Student BMJ suggesting formal training in quantitative methods before initiating clinical training — especially for folks interested in research. I think a few snippets of his advice may be of significant benefit for the “recently initiated.”

After graduating from one of the top medical schools in India, Dharam opted for a path less traveled — he decided to pursue a masters in epidemiology and quantitative methods from the Harvard School of Public Health. His years as a post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard provided him with a solid grounding in outcomes research that enables him to analyze and produce high-quality manuscripts using large administrative and population datasets. This endeavor was ongoing during his internal medicine training at University of Pennsylvania, his cardiology fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic, and his interventional cardiology fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School. The rigorous training in epidemiology has enabled him to formulate search questions, identify potential datasets for testing the hypothesis, and collaborate with interested researchers across the country, efforts that have culminated in the production of widely read and cited manuscripts.

For early-career individuals interested in research, what do you find confounding in your career path? For more established clinical researchers, what advice do you wish that you had received?

2 Responses to “How to Have a Solid Foundation in Clinical Research and Data Analysis”

  1. Siqin Ye, MD says:

    Having just finished a two-year program in Biostatistics / Patient-Oriented Research, I definitely second the value of training in quantitative methods. A grasp of fundamental concepts in biostatistics and being able to use the same language to communicate with statisticians has helped me tremendously during my research.

    I also want to make a plug for the Columbia Summer Research Institute (, that I was fortunate enough to participate in at the beginning of my degree program. This is an intense, high-yield, 7-weeks seminar covering basic epidemiology, biostatistics, and funding and grantsmanship, and is taught by some of the best faculty members at the Mailman School of Public Health. Although based at Columbia, the program also attracts many fellows and junior faculty from the Greater New York area.

  2. I cannot agree more. I did an MPH at the Havard School of Public Health with a concentration in Health Policy and Management. I wish I had concentrated on Clinical Effectiveness with a focus of Biostatistics and Epidemiology. With that in mind, I signed up for the 10 month Harvard Medical School online ‘Principles and Practice of Clinical Research’ this year. My outlook to research has changed so much since. Definitely one of the best experiences of my life! Highly recommended!