Ex-rower dives into research with the help of Stanford’s clinical research coordinator training

As a former collegiate rower, Brittany Johnson knows about teamwork. About how everyone on board has to work in harmony to keep a boat moving forward, swift and true, towards the finish line. Two years ago, Johnson joined another type of team, the Thoracic Oncology crew, where she works as a clinical research coordinator to bring promising new treatments to patients with lung and thymus cancers.

Before joining Stanford’s Thoracic Oncology crew as a clinical research coordinator, Brittany Johnson, in the leftmost bow position, rowed for four years for the University of San Diego.

Johnson’s career path from administrative associate to clinical research coordinator was made possible with the help of mentors at the Stanford Cancer Institute Cancer Clinical Trials Office and the Clinical Research Operations Program, an on-campus training program run out of the School of Medicine.

After graduating from the University of San Diego in 2014, Johnson decided to move back to her hometown of Los Gatos, Calif. to be closer to loved ones. She initially interviewed for a few marketing and communications positions around Silicon Valley, but when nothing seemed like a good fit, she decided to take an interim position as an administrative associate in Stanford’s Cancer Clinical Trials Office. She soon discovered that she loved working at the School of Medicine, so her manager suggested that the Clinical Research Operations Program might be a great way to launch a career in clinical research. This Stanford-based program is offered at no cost to enrollees and courses are taught on campus during working hours.

Stanford’s Clinical Research Operations Program classes teach the fundamentals in study design, research processes, data management, ethics, and the roles/responsibilities associated with conducting human subject research at Stanford. Managed by Peg Tsao, RN, the workforce development manager, the overarching goal of the program is to raise the quality of clinical research across Stanford and to enhance the career growth of our clinical research personnel. These classes also prepare participants for the national certification programs run by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) and the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA).

Brittany Johnson

Photo:  Kris Newby

“What I love the most about being a clinical research coordinator is helping patients, especially working with them to see if they qualify for entry into specific clinical trials

To receive Stanford Clinical Research Operations certification, participants must complete the program’s 16 core classes and four electives within a two-year period, then pass an exam. Class instructors include faculty and staff with clinical research expertise from across Stanford University.

In addition, participants learn how to use Stanford’s OnCore study management system and are trained in Good Clinical Practice (GCP) and HIPAA (privacy protection) regulations. Upon completion of certification requirements, participants can take the certification exam, which will be offered on March 30 and April 1 this year.

After completing her training, Johnson chose to apply to clinical research coordinator positions focusing on cancer clinical trials since several of her family members had died of cancer. She ultimately chose the Thoracic Oncology group for personal reasons; her grandmother had recently died from lung disease, and she wanted to learn more about the latest treatments.

Of all the cancer studies she works on, she’s most  interested in the T Cell Receptor (TCR) technology therapy trials, where a patient’s own T cells (a type of immune system cell) are genetically modified in the laboratory, grown in large quantities, then infused back into the patient, so that they can find and attack the targeted cancer cells. This appears to be a less toxic approach to targeting cancers than using chemotherapy, where powerful drugs that kill fast-growing cancer cells often kill healthy cells, too.

Johnson currently supports five different investigators, including Heather Wakelee, MD, the president-elect of International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer and faculty director of the Stanford Cancer Clinical Trials Office.

The Clinical Research Operations program is funded by the National Institutes of Health (grant UL1TR003142 to the Stanford Clinical and Translational Science Award program). For more information on the certification program, visit this site.