Going The Distance

October 1, 2004

Applied Clinical Trials

Applied Clinical Trials, Applied Clinical Trials-10-01-2004,

Flexibility to work on assignments whenever one's schedule permits can be the only realistic way to pursue further education.

The ever-changing, specialized, and growing field of clinical research needs a supply of highly educated professionals to efficiently bring safe and effective new drugs to market. Until recently, many people working in the field "fell into" it from a variety of backgrounds because there were no academic programs specifically leading to degrees in clinical research. The need for leadership training in this important specialty has evidenced itself in both the clinical development process and the protection of human subjects. Specific standards must be upheld throughout the entire process of clinical research, including ethical conduct in research on human subjects, Good Clinical Practice by sponsors and study sites, reliable site monitoring, quality assurance, and accurate data management and analysis.

Table 1. Selected online academic degree programs in clinical research

Some colleges and universities have founded degree programs in clinical research in recent years. While these may serve the needs of those living close to campus, the majority of prospective students do not live within commuting distance. It is difficult for many of those interested in enrolling in a program in clinical research to attend classes at a campus. Many people working in the industry have family obligations that tie them to where they live, and many students who desire more education in this field are currently employed in the industry and could not or would not want to quit their jobs to move close to a traditional campus-based program. Heavy work and travel schedules of those working in the industry further complicate efforts to attend classes in a traditional setting.

Innovative new distance learning programs utilizing the amazing opportunities offered by the Internet offer an option for education. Fine universities have creatively built curriculum leading to Bachelors and Masters Degrees specifically in Clinical Research. These options are making it possible for professionals experienced in the pharmaceutical industry who realize the benefits of obtaining more education in their chosen field to pursue their goals. These professionals are mature, motivated adult learners who appreciate the benefits and convenience of distance learning while taking advantage of all that this type of educational experience has to offer. Many of the students in these programs are experienced in this specialized area, and come to these educational programs already possessing a background of experience that they can share online with their classmates.

Modern technology provides the opportunity to benefit from a truly global learning environment, drawing students and faculty from all over the world. Classes are taught online by professors experienced in different special aspects of the industry, who also live and work throughout the world. They adapt teaching methods to encourage lively discussions and a rich sharing of ideas among students in the class.

There are many other reasons why this type of online educational experience is an excellent option for those working within the pharmaceutical industry. While clinical trials are increasingly being conducted internationally, project team members work in virtual groups, using teleconferences, videoconferences, and email to communicate. Participating in an Internet course helps to prepare students for just such communication, since projects must be completed in coordination with people whom they will never meet in a classroom. All team members are responsible for carrying their portion of the workload. The experience of working with today's current technologies and learning to form productive working relationships on virtual teams is invaluable training for being successful in the modern work environment.

The Internet is an excellent teaching tool for learning and honing essential computer skills needed to accomplish research and produce high-quality professional work. The Internet distance learning student has access to countless libraries and many other sources of up-to-date information. Additionally, students can easily communicate online with people experienced in a wide variety of clinical research topics who can provide opinions, guidance, and information. For example, well-known experts in any area of pharmaceutical development can be "guest speakers" about a topic of their expertise just by logging onto the computer. Due to logistics and finances, it would be extremely difficult to provide this opportunity in a classroom setting. Students, professors, and guest speakers are able to reach this worldwide classroom without leaving the comfort of their home or office, thereby eliminating wasted time and money on travel. Distance learning is a very cost-effective form of education for institutions and students. Just as importantly, productivity is maintained because those involved are able to continue with their normal work schedules without skipping a beat.

Distance learning can overcome logistical barriers and bring students and faculty from many cultures and parts of the world together, which would not be possible in the traditional classroom setting. The inconvenience, cost, and time to travel to on-campus courses are replaced by an exciting forum in which minds in clinical research from all over the world share ideas. The Internet is able to reach people in distant lands that may not have a course of study nearby, making the same educational opportunities available to everyone in the world. This availability holds the promise to help equalize the amount and quality of Clinical Research conducted in all populations of the world. A wide scope of communication may address problems of conducting clinical trials in different settings and unify the industry. In the era of international harmonization in clinical research, this forum can help the industry to work together towards this goal. As more and more clinical trials are conducted internationally, insight about the diverse challenges and issues to be solved will greatly aid in the success of global clinical research and help ensure its proper conduct wherever it is done.

Networking with colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry throughout the world is another advantage of participating in a distance learning program. These contacts can turn into win-win educational and working relationships. International corporations may enhance their different international operating units' abilities to communicate more clearly with each other by providing similar educational experiences via globally available classes.

Last but not least, after a full day at work and taking care of family responsibilities, the flexibility to work on school assignments whenever one's schedule permits can be the only realistic way to pursue further education specifically in clinical research. This is an attractive option providing convenience for many in the industry to further their education while continuing to contribute to the work of clinical research and maintaining their personal lifestyle.