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How our designing clinical research course empowers researchers

Giorgia Dalla Valle, clinical research midwife at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust reflects on the course and its benefits.

King’s Health Partners, in collaboration with the University of California San Francisco, are offering a Designing Clinical Research course, exploring the essential aspects of developing a clinical research protocol. This course is suited to clinically qualified medical trainees, nurses, dentist and dental qualified staff, pharmacists, allied health professionals and healthcare scientists. 

dcr courseWe caught up with Giorgia Dalla Valle [pictured right], clinical research midwife at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, following her winning best protocol presentation in the 2019 cohort. Giorgia blogs about her experiences during the course and what’s next for her career.  

When did you decide to develop your research career?  

I have always been fascinated by the world of research. I qualified as a midwife at the University of Padova, in Italy, and following that, successfully obtained a position as clinical research midwife in a London teaching hospital.   

I now work in the preterm birth research team at St Thomas’ Hospital and the Department of Women and Children's Health,  School of Life Course Sciences, King's College London.  My objective is to progress in a clinical academic research career, to develop my own ideas and transform them into concrete interventions available to patients.  

Why did you choose the Designing Clinical Research course?   

Before this course my research experience was mainly focused on research delivery and trial management. I was looking for a course to stimulate my creativity and understand how to design a study from a clinical perspective. I came across a blog talking about the course on the King’s College London newsletter, it seemed exactly the kind of course I was looking for and I immediately applied. 

How is the course organised? 

The course takes you through all stages of designing a research project, from formulating the question to methodology statistics and ethics. It runs over 10 weeks with both online and classroom components.   

You access weekly lectures, PDF version of the course textbook and other learning materials online. Each week there is a face-to-face two-hour evening workshop, led by a faculty comprising King’s College London professors, clinical researchers and statisticians.  

You are encouraged to post your assignments in online forums for comments from peers and faculty. The workshops are organised at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust or King’s College London campuses on different evenings. An academic supervisor is there to support you with expertise in your topic of interest or methodology.  

What did you like about the course?  

I really liked that the study was self-directed, and the e-learning modules provide you with flexibility to fit it around your working week. You can learn theoretical aspects and translate them into your project with the support of your academic supervisor.  

I was part of a group of amazing professionals: doctors from several specialties, physiotherapists, a research nurse and a dental nurse. Hearing other research approaches from different disciplines was fascinating and the peers’ input into the design of my protocol was invaluable. The workshops enable you to consider your protocol from alternative perspectives and add design aspects which you wouldn’t otherwise have considered before the course. 

Can you tell us about the prize you won?  

There are two presentation evenings at the end of the course:  the first occasion is for everyone to present their protocol in their team, the second is for the two winners to present their work to the judges.  

The competition was really tough, all projects were interesting and well-articulated, so I felt really flattered to be selected and delighted to be awarded the prize for best protocol presentation. The trial protocol I developed was on surgical interventions for preterm birth prevention called “A multicentre randomised controlled trial of transabdominal versus transvaginal cervical cerclage in women at preterm risk following previous emergency caesarean section.”  

Prizes were also available for the three runners up and for the most novel research question and most robust design. 

What’s next? 

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this course and would highly recommend it to any healthcare professional interested in clinical research. It gave me the confidence and the preliminary research question to apply for the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Pre Doctoral Clinical Fellowship to further develop my idea into a PhD proposal. 

I am incredibly grateful to my academic supervisor, Dr Natalie Suff, who spent time going through the detailed aspects of trial design with me, and Prof Shennan for his invaluable support and inspiration; the best ideas sometimes come from a sketch on the back of a clinic list on a busy day! 

If you’re interested in applying, please contact Rachael Jarvis, Education Academy Administration Manager for more information: educationacademy AT kcl.ac.uk.