Meet the Clinical Research Core

Laughter and a whole lot of chocolate keep things going in the Clinical Research Core at BADER Consortium.

At least, that’s what CRC team members say, and they should know: they have an important job to do. The CRC supports orthopaedic research at each of the military and civilian treatment facilities affiliated with the BADER Consortium, with the goal of moving Consortium research forward amidst multiple agendas.

In the few years since the small team has been working together from respective sites across the country, its members have become like family, despite and because of these challenges.

“I think all of us were thrown into these very different but very similar environments and I think we all empathized and leaned on each other,” said Danielle Faulkner, protocol and data management coordinator at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. “We all essentially had to start from scratch and we all came from a common place so we relate to each other.”

When a member of Faulkner’s immediate family took ill, the team supported her, she said, sending her chocolate (of course) and letting her know they were there for her.

At the start, each member of the CRC had to define their role in BADER Consortium research at their respective sites and create a collective identity in providing infrastructure support. They combined their individual expertise and experiences to begin moving toward common goals.

“I think of us as the heartbeat of the Consortium,” said CRC manager, Suzanne Milbourne, based at the University of Delaware, which employs each team member. “Some have said the CRC is the boots on the ground.”

From the beginning, it was important to Milbourne that the CRC function as a cohesive unit, despite the geographic distances separating its members. She established an agenda for the team and works with its members on team-building and collective decision-making.

“We did some team-building when all were first hired and it broke the ice, learning about each other’s professional and also personal lives,” Milbourne said.

Milbourne invited the team to participate in a book club, to contribute to informational announcements in the BADER Dispatch, to work together on developing research tools to use across sites and to take turns hosting monthly CRC video conferences.

There are currently five CRC team members distributed among clinical research sites in Virginia, at Portsmouth; in Massachusetts, at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital; and in Maryland, at Walter Reed Medical Center. The CRC will soon add staff at Naval Medical Center San Diego and in San Antonio, at Brooke Army Medical Center – Center for the Intrepid.

In addition, Dick Sacher, information technologies manager, provides design guidance and technical implementation support from Newark, Delaware. Michelle Mattera, master protocol administrator, works onsite at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in Bethesda, Maryland to facilitate BADER’s use of the NIH Clinical Trials Database (CTDB) for its research protocols.

Without a cohesive team, Milbourne said, there would be no Clinical Research Core. And without a Core, there would be a profound gap in the BADER Consortium.

“Everybody respects each other and it’s a good working environment,” said Rudi Hiebert, epidemiologist and research associate at Portsmouth. “Everyone is interested in the same goal: to foster research.”

The team feels appreciated, Hiebert added, since Milbourne, BADER Director, Steven Stanhope, and Administrative Core director, Rachel Strickland, take the time to let them know when things are working well and to troubleshoot when issues arise.

Devjani Saha, biomechanics research associate at Walter Reed, said they have really learned to work collaboratively. She knows who to call when she needs input or is looking to pull together a research project.

“The whole idea here is to build off each other,” Hiebert said.

It helps that each team member has learned each others’ strengths and weaknesses, said Amanda Wingate, protocol and data management coordinator at Walter Reed.

The technology that helps brings them together – video and teleconferencing, email and more – has also played a key role.

“Every week, we are meeting regularly to plan and look for the research team members’ input,” Mattera said.

Milbourne acknowledges the staffing arrangement is unique, especially for an academic institution, but that they have become such a strong team is worth noting. Because at the end of the day, supporting high-quality orthopaedic research to advance the BADER Consortium’s mission is what it’s all about.

“It doesn’t matter if we are sitting in the same room or in different rooms around the country,” said Sacher. “It’s the drive to make it work that creates the success and I think that’s really the key to this whole thing.”

The chocolate and laughter don’t hurt, either.