Rutgers Cancer Institute Leverages CRC Onboarding to Boost Trial Quality

Ginnette Watkins-Keller, RN, MSN, OC, Education Specialist, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Ginnette Watkins-Keller, RN, MSN, OC, Education Specialist, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

“Common sense is not so common,” French author and wit Voltaire once wrote. Despite the relative sparsity of such programs in the clinical research enterprise, he certainly wouldn’t be surprised to learn that new employees perform better when there’s a solid onboarding program in place to guide them from day one on the job.

“We’ve been able to get staff up and running faster” with an emphasis on onboarding, says Ginnette Watkins-Keller, RN, MSN, OC, an education specialist with the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Working closely with Reneé Kurz DNP, FNP-BC, AOCNP, associate director of statewide research, and others at the institute, Watkins-Keller has developed a strong onboarding program that’s already demonstrated its value many times over on many levels. This comprehensive program encompasses all the types of staff working in the clinical operations office, including clinical research coordinators (CRCs), research nurse clinicians, program development analysts, and clinical trial specialists.

“When I first came on [about two years ago], it took people in different roles a month or so until they were actually making any impact in the job they were hired for,” Watkins-Keller said. “There just wasn’t any consistency in the training and people were kind of lost,” she added.

In addition to decreasing the staff attrition rates, Watkins-Keller said morale and job performance have benefitted from the onboarding regimen linked with a professional development program. “We’ve seen an increase in staff going for their certifications in clinical trials, an increase in staff going back to school for higher degrees, and an increase in staff moving to other jobs within the facility and within its departments,” she explained.

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The institute team ultimately came up with an in-person, two-day onboarding program. The first day covers non-clinical issues, while the second focuses more directly on the work of clinical trials themselves. The team created orientation checklists for all positions, many of which are also competency-based.

The team elected to address how the informed consent process was conducted right out of the starting gate, Kurz said. “We developed a hands-on learning approach with different activities [and] didactic learning” so that the staff can demonstrate and validate that they understand the concept of quality informed consent procedures, she said. “We have metrics to show that they are improving,” she added.

It’s not quick and it’s not always easy to establish a robust program, admits Kurz. “Find a partner and start small,” she advises. Set several goals. “What’s your one-month goal? Three months? It’s easy to build it if you take it one step at a time and have somebody else to work with,” she said.

“We both have an optimistic attitude,” Watkins-Keller said. “That helps.”

Author: Michael Causey