Clinical Trials Day Countdown: Meet Patricia
As part of our countdown to Clinical Trials Day, we're interviewing some of our clinical team members. Follow along here to meet our team and learn about their experiences within clinical research!
Today, we're interviewing Patricia Vanderberg, Research Assistant.
When did you begin working in clinical research and expand to where you're today?
I have had a long journey to end up in research. In the 1990s, I was the only Medical Assistant for the hematology group at an Englewood, New Jersey, location. Then, more than 20+ years ago, I was fortunate to have found a job at one of the best research hospitals in my area. In 2000, I started working at Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC). I started as a Medical Assistant in the hematology/oncology department. Throughout my 17 years at HUMC, I received various promotions, leading me to where I set out to be from the beginning: in the research department.
I was going to nursing school while working at HUMC, raising a family, and going through many life changes, all at the same time. When I received a more significant promotion, I decided to stop going to nursing school; I had one more semester. I knew what my life would be like if I accepted the position, and I couldn’t give both 100%. Since my ultimate goal was to be in research, and I had accomplished that, I sadly had to give up school at that time.
I started in the hematology-oncology department so all the research studies conducted when I worked there were oncology based. As the years passed, I was fortunate to finally have the opportunity to be part of the research department. I became a part of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP)/Transplant Department as a Data Coordinator/Manager, and I was allowed to read and see the outcomes of the patients in the clinical trials. My job was to follow the patients' trajectory from diagnosis on through, before, and after the transplant. I needed to put together their “illness/cancer” journeys from the beginning until they entered a trial.
I had to review all medical records, the physical chart (which was standard for medical records then), and some electronic records—my days consisted of reading their whole story. Reading their medical history, you learn a lot about each patient, including when they received their diagnosis, their first line of treatment, and what led to the transplant; in a sense, I was reading about their whole life.
I used to get very emotional because I’m compassionate regarding people’s well-being. I used to get to know the patient fairly well, even though I never met them. Once they receive a transplant, whether an auto or an Allogeneic Stem Cell Transplant (ALLO) transplant, you must follow each person at day 100, 6 months, 1 year, and every year after, until death. I came to read and know each patient and looked forward to each follow-up reporting period. It greatly affected me when I discovered that patients didn’t do well, and the following path was to enroll in a new clinical trial. Other patients did do well; “entered remission” was always a happy outcome to read.
Regardless of the outcome, I always took it to heart. I read about their families, the families they left behind for those that failed treatment, and following the path of the ones that did do well, or even the children that did; it was very emotional for me. It was like reading a new book every day–reading their stories or medical charts connected me to them and the importance of research. I had to do this to put all the pieces together for the reports; in a way, I felt like a detective in my part of the research work.
Eventually, I left to pursue other opportunities, but a few years later, I needed to return to it. I felt something was missing and had to do more in this field.
2. What made you want to work in clinical research (and/or healthcare)?
After spending a few years working and learning about clinical research, I knew I wanted to be part of something that made a difference in people's lives. Most of us want to be part of something innovative that helps people—taking a piece of the discoveries in science and helping those in need. This type of work was the perfect combination for me.
3. What is an example of a story/article that inspires you about doing clinical research?
When I worked at the research hospital, I was fortunate enough to work with one of the missionaries who established the research department, Dr. Andre Goy. To have been a part of that department was a true honor, and to have seen how some of the drugs we had in the studies back then had a significant impact on people’s lives was gratifying. Dr. Goy is an inspiration, and the work he continues to do to elevate cancer research is remarkable. I have remained in this field because of people like him. He is a true leader in the advancement of research and cancer treatments.
If you want to read his co-authored article, “The Cancer Moonshot: Here’s How We Get There,” click here: https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/oncology/the-cancer-moonshot-here-s-how-we-get-there.html