Online Course Aims To Build Clinical Research Skills | New
October 17, 2016 — When a Brazilian doctor Felipe Fregni, MPH ’07, came to Harvard to study clinical research (medical studies involving human volunteers), the experience was transformative. Gaining the skills to critically analyze the latest research on treatments and preventive measures made him better able to care for his patients, he said, and also launched him into a research career. conducting its own clinical trials.
Recognizing that this type of training was not available to many healthcare professionals, especially in developing countries, Fregni decided to launch the online course. Principles and practice of clinical research (PPCR) nine years ago. It is currently offered by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, and to date, more than 2,000 students from 30 countries have enrolled.
Fregni, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, is the director of a large clinical research laboratory at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston focused on studying how the brain changes with damage to the nervous system and how to improve learning when the nervous system is injured. In addition to leading the PPCR, Fregni collaborates with researchers in Brazil and other countries.
“The only way to improve the practice of medicine is to spread knowledge,” he said. “I believe that better training of clinical researchers around the world will help develop innovations in medicine and public health.
The PPCR is for graduate students or healthcare professionals who have little or no training in clinical trials. By the end of the course, students will be able to design and conduct their own clinical trials and understand the basics of article publishing, Fregni said.
Fregni takes an interactive approach to keeping distance learners engaged during the nine-month certificate course, which he says has a very low drop-out rate of less than 5%. Unlike many courses of this type, students actively participate in a live online class with other learners from around the world.
Students meet weekly at 30 course centers in countries such as Brazil, Germany and Russia for lectures and group discussions on the basics of clinical research, formulating a research question and from selecting a population to study, to data collection and statistical methods. Before each session, students participate in online forums and chat with teaching assistants. The course ends with a group project in which students design a clinical research study which they must submit in a mock grant application and present to their classmates and professors.
There are also several optional in-person workshops during the course: two-day sessions in Boston focus on skills including statistics and academic writing, and a five-day immersion workshop in Brazil gives students the opportunity to work with professors from Harvard Chan School and others. to refine their research ideas. A thriving online alumni community encourages students to continue to learn from each other and collaborate on research projects.
Colombian physician Lina Goez, SM ’13, a Harvard Chan School graduate in epidemiology, said engaging in discussions and presenting her ideas in this global classroom has helped her become a better researcher and communicator. After completing the training, she joined the training team of the pharmaceutical company where she works, and now participates in the tutoring of new employees on the main part of clinical research.
Mariana Urquiaga, a gastroenterology researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said the course exceeded her expectations. While she signed up in hopes of improving her statistical skills, she came away with greater confidence in her knowledge of what it takes for a career in research, she said. . The communication skills she learned from presenting her work in the classroom helped her present the research results of her Celiac Fellowship at a major conference this month.
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Photos courtesy of Principles and Practice of Clinical Research