My name is Christina Cline, R.N.
Christina is a study coordinator at the UF Health Cancer Center’s Clinical Trials Office.
What does your role as a study coordinator entail?
Day-to-day, I screen patients, look at medical charts, assist with data collection and communicate very heavily with the health care staff about the patients who come into the clinic. We also coordinate discussing clinical trials with patients. We help explain what all is involved in a clinical trial — that there are new treatments out there that are being compared with standard treatments and that we are looking to see if they provide better outcomes and are less toxic for patients moving forward. The patient has a right to choose to be on the study or not go on the study, and they can withdraw at any time. They are in control of their decision. And if they choose to not participate, it’s not going to affect the treatment that we give them.
When do you first meet patients?
Sometimes the doctor will bring me in and introduce me right after a patient has been given their diagnosis. They can feel very overwhelmed — they have just been told they have a certain percentage chance of living — and then I come in to discuss clinical trials with them. So I try to put myself in their position. I often just take the time to explain what standard treatment is, so that they can mentally prepare for what’s coming ahead. Then I tell them about the trial, and leave them the informed consent to look over. I come back later, and if they’re interested, I spend a lot of time discussing the study: the basics of clinical trials, the purpose of the study, the intent, the benefits, the side effects. Then I let them think about it some more. Even once they choose to enroll, I continue to go over all these things with them — this is what’s going to happen next. Knowledge is empowering, and I feel that the more they know, the better the choices they can make for their overall care.
So you work with patients who are participating in clinical trials throughout their care?
I spend a lot of time with them all the way through, either in person or over the phone. I want to be that constant person they’re seeing all the time, because I think that offers an amount of stability for them. I even continue through follow-up. When they come off study, I give them my contact information because I have a relationship with them — they can call me data-gallery with any questions moving forward. I will either get the answer for them or get them to the right person. And I think that’s one of the benefits of a clinical trial — you get a little more one-on one time. Someone is there, monitoring your side effects, asking how you’re feeling.
How did you become a study coordinator?
I started as a data manager, and I just fell in love with that we were doing. I loved being involved in the science part of it and the connection we have with our patients.
It’s almost like we become family. Eventually, I decided I wanted to grow into the study coordinator role and went back to school for nursing. The Clinical Trials Office was behind me 100 percent. This journey is so intense for our patients; I wanted to make a difference in their lives as they face the journey ahead. I am very hopeful we will one day be able to find a cure or at least be able to develop medicines that will not be so toxic to patients during treatment — and I’m very excited to be a part of that.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The patients — they are why I do this job. They are giving of themselves to try to make a difference. They are really contributing to science and advancing cancer care, and I find that to be very heroic. I’m honored to even be a part of it with them. They allow you into their lives, you get to know them and you develop some very good friendships and relationships with these patients. I also enjoy being someone who they turn to and ask questions.
What is the toughest part of your job?
It can be emotional. There’s been lots of times when my heart has been heavy for our patients. My husband has seen me come home and cry it out. I don’t know what it’s like to be in our patients’ shoes — I just let them know I’m there for them.
What are some misperceptions about clinical trials you hear?
Sometimes the perception of the patient is “I’m just a guinea pig,” so when I talk with them and show them how treatment evolves through the different phases of clinical trials, I think that helps patients understand where we are right now and what we’re trying to accomplish. They can also stop participating in the trial at any point. I recently saw a patient who wasn’t sure if they wanted to continue the study or go home on supportive care. I just told the patient, “There’s no wrong decision in what you choose. It’s what you feel is best for you, your family and your quality of life, and that’s the most important thing.”