Greetings, I have been working in clinical practice for 20 years and I feel the ambition to persue more. I am interested in research and development. The nearest research institution in North Carolina is about 2 hours away. Is research a viable career option only if you live near an institution? Is there any way I could contribute from a distance?
I would suggest that you attend a local Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) chapter meeting in your geographical area. The ACRP local chapters are normally open to nonmember attendance and are a GREAT place to find out what medical (or even dental) centers in your area that may be involved in clinical research. Initially, you may wish to visit and/or volunteer at a clinical research site to get a fuller understanding of the field, then through networking might seek a local or regional opportunity in study coordination. After gaining experience in study coordination, you might indeed find a route to clinical research associate work. Once exposed to the field, you would be wise to consider one of the credible online certificate programs that would help you later sit for an ACRP certification exam and gain industry employment.
You don’t mention your educational background, which is probably the most important factor to consider. Many research organizations, whether universities, clinical research organizations (CROs), or health care facilities engaged in research, look for training at the least as a clinical research associate, or formal training via higher education (master of science or doctoral degrees) for more advanced opportunities. You also don’t mention if you live in a city where there are CROs, hospitals, or clinics engaged in research. This will usually be in large cities and are not necessarily affiliated with universities. I would encourage you, if you don’t have the baseline formal education for research, to look to the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP, http://www.acrpnet.org) for guidance. The ACRP has various certification and training programs—a thorough review of its website will help you get a better sense of what is currently happening in clinical research. With your 20 years of clinical experience and additional training/certification, you could be a good candidate for a clinical research associate.
Clinical practice experience provides a good foundation for research. My suggestion would be to contact University of North Carolina’s Clinical Research Center, which has a very active program both with National Institutes of Health and industry-funded research. Another option would be to check if any dental offices in her area are participating in the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network. This is a sponsored program with the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research that includes practitioners in research. More information can be obtained at http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/ Some additional training would be helpful. Human Subjects Training Courses can be taken online. Additionally, training to become a Certified Research Associate is an option. This broadens the opportunity to include studies outside of the oral health area. Some sites to visit would be http://www.socra.org/ and the Association for Clinical Research Professionals http://www.acrpnet.org/.
Yes, it is possible to be involved in research even if you do not live close to an academic research institution. Beyond the confines of traditional clinical trials, there are other opportunities to work at a distance. For example, I worked as a clinical research coordinator while living in a neighboring city, although I did commute into the campus once a week or as needed. Once you establish yourself at the key institution, there are many duties that can be accomplished from a distance, such as searching out funding opportunities, proposal writing, subject recruitment, enrollment and appointment management, and data entry and analysis, just to name a few. Do some investigating and you will likely find that there is research going on all around you. Look through university websites and reach out to faculty researchers for potential involvement. Express your interest and you may be amazed what opportunities arise. But, don’t limit yourself to a dental academic research institution. There are opportunities at sites such as contract research organizations, hospitals, medical schools, community centers, and medical offices. For instance, my dermatologist has his own research facility in his practice setting where he collects data on patients with skin cancer, and many community centers collect social science data. Many areas of research cross traditional boundaries into collaborative, multi- and interdisciplinary research teams. Do not be afraid to send an introductory email—persistence pays off. Be realistic about your own goals and reach beyond the obvious. I started one of my first research collaborations by reading a newspaper article about someone working on a research project at an engineering school in another city. Making a cold call to the researcher has led to a 10+ year relationship helping develop equipment for dental applications. Finally, get involved, take part in a research study, volunteer to be a subject and talk to people conducting the research, they may have ideas and contacts that can help get your foot in the door. Talk to colleagues at professional meetings and attend symposiums like the North American/Global Dental Hygiene Research Conference, visit research websites and Google research key terms, think outside the box. Perhaps take a basic training course on clinical trials such as the ones offered through the Society of Clinical Research Associates Inc (https://www.socra.org). Motivation and being proactive goes a long way to show initiative—good luck to you in your pursuit of research opportunities!
You can definitely contribute to research from a distance! The important thing is that you identify and connect with a mentor. That mentor does not have to be geographically located near to you (although it is ideal if he or she is). You can discuss you interests with a mentor and he or she will be able to advise you on what your next steps should be. Do you need a graduate degree? Can you make contributions by working alongside the mentor on his or her projects? What training/skills do you need to be prepared to pursue research? These are the types of things that a mentor will be able to help you with.