Katrina Croghan is Clinical Research Coordinator for the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center assigned to the division of Hematology in Rochester, Minnesota. She is no stranger to the medical field as her father is a Mayo Clinic Oncology consultant and her mother is an epidemiologist and collaborative scientist in community internal medicine. Due to her parents’ educational pursuits, she was born in Buffalo, New York, but was relocated at the age of four to Rochester, Minnesota.
“I’m a Minnesotan,” Katrina says. “I’ve made it through too many winters not to accept it. When I was 13 years old I traveled to Washington DC with my school class and was told I have an accent. I always told myself ‘I don’t have an accent’ but the older I get, the more the ‘long Os’ come out. In fact, last month I was asked if I was Canadian, so I’ve come to terms with it.”
From New York to Minnesota, and from animal behavior sciences to clinical research coordinator, let’s get to know Katrina a bit better:
What does a Clinical Research Coordinator do?
Many people just think, ‘oh, you just coordinator things,’ but there is so much more to it than that. We are the liaisons between all parties involved in a research study, including the patient, the company and its clinical research office (CRO), the principle investigator(s) on site, and the regulatory bodies – such as the FDA regulations, IRB requirements and ICH guidelines.
So, making sure all parties are being accommodated while following regulations can be quite challenging.
What I appreciate is, especially at Mayo Clinic, we keep the patient in the forefront. Studies are a constant balancing act between what is best for the patient and what needs to be done for the study.
The one thing I always strive for is that our patients never feel like a number. No patient should ever feel like a number, especially in research. I work really hard behind the scenes to try and make a research study feel easy for the patient, because they are already dealing with so much.
How did you find your way to becoming a coordinator?
Well, actually, my BS degree is ecology and natural resources with an emphasis on wildlife biology and my masters focused on animal behavior. I tend to keep my degrees hidden. I am very proud of my degrees I just can’t remember all the moving parts anymore. Conversations become short lived. I just haven’t kept up on Animal Behavior research. Not to mention, it’s almost impossible to remember scientific tree names.
Kidding aside, after I got my masters, I originally wanted to pursue my PhD in higher education, because I wanted to teach science teachers how to teach science. While waiting, it was suggested to me that I apply for a supplemental position as a research coordinator because of my knowledge of writing protocols and conducting research.
For a short time, I worked as a float research coordinator. I would go to departments that needed research coordinators. Along the way, I learned many different aspects of being a coordinator. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Gertz on an Amyloidosis study that I thoroughly enjoyed working with the patient population and made a more permanent switch to hematology in 2015.
As you mentioned, patients are at the forefront of clinical research. What is your role with the patient?
Our job is to make sure a patient not only understands the risk factors of trial participation, but to make sure they understand the integrity of the study as well. Consent forms are usually 25-30 pages long and filled with a daunting amount of details.
It is our job to make sure they don’t feel pressured to do a study. Then, we have to verify that the patient understands what he or she is signing up for. Everything in research is voluntary and the patient can stop the study at any time.
Beyond scheduling, it seems that building relationships with study participants is an integral part of a coordinators role.
Coordinators often become the front line for patients because they feel more comfortable with us. We create relationships with a lot of our patients, especially in hematology, because we may see some of our participants over many years and sometimes on multiple trials. Getting to know participants helps the patient feel more comfortable and can increase the accuracy of the data collected in the study.
When explaining a study with a patient, what are some of the common concerns a patient may express?
It is a bit different with hematology patients. Because patients may be facing such a rare, complex disease, often times, there are not many apprehensions about participating in a clinical drug study. One common concern is often travel. Another is how many visits and how often a patient has to be on-site.
In regards to hematology patients, it is the closest representation of altruism I have ever experienced as a coordinator. These patients, especially with rare diseases, are not always concerned with how it benefits them, but rather how it will help their family members or others who may get or express the disease.
A common misconception regarding all studies is that all travel and drug costs will be reimbursed. While this may be the true for some studies, it is not universal for all studies. That is an important part of each study I make sure to discuss with each patient thoroughly before consent. Because the consent document is so long and complex, we often revisit this topic multiple times during visits to help keep the patient informed throughout the study.
From a medical aspect, what do you find interesting in regards to the research itself?
It is amazing to watch a drug go from phase I all the way through to FDA approval. It is also encouraging that when I started some of the rare diseases had little to no treatment, but now have multiple studies and trials advancing to FDA approval. It gets back to the altruism that many of the participants exhibit. The future generations will have far more treatment options as a result of patient participation and the clinical research they make possible.
When you are not working, what is your favorite way to spend your time?
I have something I have termed ‘the Croghan syndrome.’ My parents are incredibly hard-working individuals and I have acquired their work ethic as well. My mom emigrated from Italy and my dad was a farm boy from Indiana. Their hard work to get where they are today continues to be a huge influence on me.
I strive for work/life balance, though I sometimes struggle. Because of this, I spend most of my time at home hanging out with my kids. I just love watching them play and try to figure out the world. I’m convinced my son wants to be an ichthyologist because he is fascinated by fish and loves fishing with grandpa, which is funny because I researched fish for my animal behavior degree. Unfortunately for him, I had to care for 400 guppies during my research and have no desire for another fish tank any time soon! My daughter has an knack for the outdoors and refuses to come inside once she is outside. She really loves taking care of a garden.
At the end of the day, what is the best part of your job?
Often times, it is the involvement of the family. Most families are incredibly supportive and want to meet the doctors and want it to be a learning experience. Their encouragement and involvement is a beautiful thing to see. The other simple answer is watching the drugs or study benefit the patient.