Circuit Connections—Meet Carmina
Here at Circuit Clinical, our team has experience across a broad span of multiple therapeutic areas. We believe in sharing this knowledge, experience, and their stories—they are incredibly important and valued as part of our company and culture.
Today, we're interviewing Carmina VanHall, RN, Clinical Project Manager, as part of our ongoing campaign: Circuit Connections.
1. When did you begin working in clinical research and expand to where you're today?
As a registered nurse in healthcare for six years, I worked in a hospital orthopedic post-surgery unit and a primary care office as a triage nurse before I began research in 2020. My first job in research was as an unblinded Clinical Research Coordinator (CRC) Vaccinator for Meridian Clinical Research. Due to the high demand for CRCs to lead the high influx of vaccine studies, I also took on the lead blinded CRC role for various vaccine studies (COVID, pneumonia, and RSV vaccines). The most remarkable study I led as a blinded CRC was the Pfizer oral COVID treatment that we now call Paxlovid! I then quickly began to be the lead unblinded CRC on any other vaccine studies. Still, the unblinded vaccinator role was my favorite. I then found the opportunity to become CRC in oncology research working at Circuit Clinical in the Broome Oncology Office in New York. I want to explore other types of research, so oncology research is where I intend to continue.
2. What made you want to work in clinical research (and/or healthcare)?
My first encounter with research was when I got my bachelor’s in psychology. During my education, I became interested in joining a small research group with one of my psychology professors interested in the psychology of religion. I had the opportunity to go to various universities to present posters on our research findings. I enjoyed talking to professors and other students about our experimental results. It was fun hearing their perspective on our findings or seeing surprised faces at what we achieved. It was also very nice to hear from professors about how impressed they were that undergraduate students presented amongst graduate and Ph.D. poster presentations. Our professor that led the research group went above and beyond and tried to expose the three of us on his team to higher education experiences. Also, I, of course, loved being able to learn about other teams’ research results.
Then a couple of years later, when I was studying for my bachelor’s in nursing, I sought out the nursing research program which focused on smoking research, since Binghamton University was going tobacco-free. For the smoking research, I mainly worked on compiling data from surveys campus students completed. The questions focused on gauging student knowledge of the various forms of tobacco use, health risks, and barriers to quitting. I went to Philadelphia at the Eastern Nursing Research Society Conference, where I was again part of a poster presentation—explaining my results and seeing my peers present. Just like before, I experienced the same incredible feeling at this conference.
So, my research interest started in school, but once I got my nursing license, I thought I could do research again when I stumbled upon the job at Meridian Clinical Research–I jumped at the chance.
Why am I so passionate about it? The thought of being able to be a part of the change in healthcare (in the long run) is what makes me happy. I also care very much about human rights and patient safety. With CRCs and research nurses, monitoring patient safety and ensuring Good Clinical Practice is practiced even better in community offices. At the community research level, the potential for GCP issues can come from the inexperience of the practice and physician staff with research.
Further, research experts like me ensure the importance of following the protocol to a T. Research-naïve small offices in communities have not had the experiences that large hospitals and research institutions have had, and the offices are multitasking to take care of their patients. So, my Circuit colleagues ensure we conduct the research how we should, allowing the doctors and their staff to continue with their general practice with research on the side. That’s where CRCs and research Nurses are especially important. To ensure the Principal Investigators and Sub-Investigators remember that clinical research is specific and particular to conduct.
We wouldn’t be here today if science didn’t continue to grow and advancements in medicine didn’t exist, which happens through research. Scientific progress only occurs when research participants are involved and provide us with the data scientists need to perfect treatments. And we would not get research participants if people did not believe in research participant protection from human rights violations. So, my job is to ensure the patients are safely cared for while participating in the clinical trials.
3. What is an example of a story/article that inspires you about doing clinical research?
My previous boss and now close friend shared an account with me before she suggested that I try working in oncology research. My friend was an oncology research nurse for a long time, and one of the most rewarding studies she worked on was a breast cancer study for the drug Pembrolizumab in Triple Negative Breast Cancer. She had a patient who was 25 years old when she got diagnosed. 25!!! After about one year of treatment, the patient was cancer free, and just two years ago was able to have a child and is living a healthy life right now, cancer-free, having survived Triple Negative Breast Cancer. This patient is in follow-up and remains cancer-free, and I’ve spoken with her about her experience.
This story is remarkable because of the power of research to help people live longer and happier lives. This type of breast cancer is one of the most challenging breast cancers to treat, and then for many, they have thought they could not leave their long-term treatments to remain cancer-free so they can have a child. This story is one reason I am in research and passionate about letting others know that research studies are so critical and an option. Most patients don’t know about or have the opportunity to choose clinical trials to treat their cancer or other diseases. We need to get these trials to areas we would generally not offer clinical trials. Finally, this brings me to why I am here at Circuit Clinical, where we are transforming the clinical trial landscape for patients, researchers, and doctors. I believe that more and more people could benefit from being part of clinical trials, learning about them, and understanding the research work being done to advance medicine even more.
To read an article about how young women who have had breast cancer can stop treatments from having children and remaining low-risk and cancer-free: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/cancer/breast-cancer-women-baby-pause-therapies-safely-rcna60674