September 15, 2011

Research nurses keep studies rolling across Vanderbilt

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Research nurses like Jillian Russell, R.N., BSN, with Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute, are crucial to advancing science. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Research nurses keep studies rolling across Vanderbilt

Research nurses at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have the perfect mix of scientific integrity and compassionate care and are another example of why VUMC is pursuing a second Magnet designation.

“Research nurses are the glue that holds a study together,” said Judy Francescon, R.N., C.C.R.P., a research nurse coordinator in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine.

“We’re often the very first contact with the patients. We screen them and make sure they fit the criteria, and then we work really closely with their physicians to make sure they’re in agreement with their patients participating.

“Then we guide the patients through the whole Vanderbilt system, ensuring that everything is coordinated, the patient is safe and the study protocols are followed.”

At any given time, there are about 40 clinical trials under way in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine — from studies comparing medication versus ablation in arrhythmia to studies of hybrid surgical and interventional procedures.

The division’s 13 research nurses and seven professional support staff are involved in every study.

“The safety of the patient is always at the forefront, whether that is making sure that study is the right one for them to be in or keeping up with them as the study progresses,” Francescon said. “We also maintain the integrity of the study, making sure everything is being done according to the regulations and protocol.”

“It is important to follow the protocols correctly and to collect and report data accurately,” explained Bobbye Wieman, R.N., C.C.R.P., “in order to protect patient safety as well as the integrity of the results.

It is essential that research nurses be organized and detail-oriented and also be good educators.

“Research doesn’t follow the standard of care, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable for other individuals in other areas to let something go on because they don’t understand the research process. Research nurses have to be very knowledgeable about the research protocols and understand the disease process and be able to educate all others about that,” Wieman said.

On the flip side of this scientific expertise is a caring touch, something that research compliance coordinator Tiffanie Markus, Ph.D., C.C.R.P., sees research nurses display with every patient.

“So many patients have really positive experiences participating in clinical trials because of the extra care, that one-on-one attention, they receive from the nurse coordinator. There’s a comfort level with a nurse that a patient doesn’t have with anyone else,” Markus said.

“Nurses are able to understand what is going on with a patient and know the flags to pay attention to. They drive the study. They’re almost like its conscience and keep things in check. They see it from the inside out and are usually the first ones to pick up on something.”

Research nurses are well integrated into the interdisciplinary research team, and their opinion is respected if an issue arises.

“Physicians listen to us and value our experience and opinion. Nurses have to know the study so well and are so in tune with the patients. Physicians want to hear our ideas and what we’re thinking and noticing as the trial progresses,” Wieman said.

There is no typical day for research nurses, and activities can vary from recruiting participants and scheduling visits to walking a patient through a day of procedures.

Whatever the day calls for, they constantly balance the science of nursing with the art of caring.

“I had a patient coming into a study one time that said, ‘Oh I’m going to be a guinea pig,’” Francescon recalled. “Once he had spent the screening and infusion day with us, he said, ‘I really feel like a VIP. I feel like I have gotten top-notch care and you guys have gone above and beyond.’”