Women’s Perspectives on Thriving in—and Surviving Because of—Clinical Research

"Women in Clinical Research: Perspectives of Progress" Panelists

On Saturday morning (April 29), ACRP 2023 attendees were inspired by a panel of women in the clinical research profession who talked about the progress that is being made for their gender in the field, and in the afternoon were further inspired by a healthcare practitioner who recounted how disruptive scientific progress made possible by clinical research has saved her life thus far from a rare and incurable condition.

Assembled for the conference in Dallas, Texas—and moderated by Virginia Nido, Global Head, Product Development Industry Collaborations at Roche—four veteran women of the clinical research enterprise shared their perspectives on what it took for them to enter the field, thrive across various duties and types of organizations, and reach their current levels of responsibility. Some of the wisdom they shared with the morning audience included:

“One of the challenges we have as women is that we are modest, [thinking our extra work and effort is being noticed in terms of salary without raising it as an issue]. Having a very focused discussion [about money] is uncomfortable. …We have to get really direct [and] have the conversation about compensation [and advancement]. We need to help our colleagues understand what’s available [and what’s fair].”—Rose Blackburne, MD, MBA, Vice President, Medical Science & Strategy and Global Head of General Medicine & Women’s Health

“A big part of this job is finding what you love and what you don’t love. [Don’t be afraid to] network with those outside clinical research to find out what works and doesn’t work for them. Find somebody [to network with who’s an expert] for everything [you want to learn more about]. …Have the confidence and don’t be afraid to be in that [leadership] position [when you’ve earned it]. Don’t be afraid to live your truth.”—Jessica Fritter, MACPR, ACRP-CP, Associated Faculty, Instructor of Clinical Practice, The Ohio State University, and Clinical Research Administration Manager, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

“What I find is that, when a woman comes and asks for equity [on the job], she’s usually embarrassed and thinks she’s asking for too much. …You have to be prepared for that conversation [and be ready to be uncomfortable]. Do your research. Ask around. Never ask for the bare minimum.”—Jeanne Taylor Hecht, CEO, JTH Consulting & Associates, LLC

“It’s not about just doing a good job—it’s about doing a great job [and helping others be great]. You have to put the work in, [because success isn’t] just going to come to you. …When you start to believe you belong at that [leadership] table, you will belong there.”—Deb Tatton, President, Global Clinical Operations at Parexel

In the afternoon, Courtney Burnett, MD, a physician, writer, and “brain cancer thriver” who works as a hospitalist in St. Paul, Minn., shared her appreciation for how clinical research and other forms of “disrupting healthcare through innovation” have helped her and others with life-threatening conditions find hope for better health.

While visiting Thailand to learn about complementary medicine in the early days of the pandemic, Burnett began experiencing worrisome symptoms from what was eventually found to be a rare and incurable type of brain tumor. Rushed back to the United States for surgery and treatment, she explained how timely it was that clinical trials on temozolomide, with which she is being treated, had only recently demonstrated the drug’s effectiveness against tumors with the specific type of mutation hers had.

While Burnett’s condition remains incurable and she has to be tested frequently for any signs of change in her health status, “I am standing here today because of the work people like you do,” she told her audience. “I think that body and mind are connected, and that clinical research is helping prove this. …Simply put, I think that modern medicine would not exist without disruption [that pushes ideas forward on a global scale]. …Together, I think we all have the power to turn ‘terminal’ into ‘chronic’ and ‘chronic’ into ‘cured.’ …Simply knowing that trials are available—if and when we need them—brings hope.”

Author: Gary Cramer