Research coordinator: a day in the life

Nikelwa Theileis is a research coordinator in Innsbruck, an ECFS-CTN clinical trial site attached to the regional hospital. She describes a typical day.

Research coordinators (RCs) have different tasks, depending on  their background and training. Most RCs have medical training of some kind – doctors, nurses, therapists, lab techs and so on. A few, such as myself, have changed careers to become RCs. Fortunately my background gave me a love of research. Before I worked with literature. Now it’s clinical research and tons of administration…with the added bonus of seeing first-hand how new therapies are improving our patients’ lives.

A clinical trial visit day starts with advance preparation. A week before the visit we have a team meeting and discuss the visit day procedure. We clarify any questions and double check that all kits and materials are available. I prepare the visit worksheets and logs, and put them in my cubby for the doctors to use.


My day starts between 7.30, when I arrive and 8.00, when the first of 3 patients comes to fill in their questionnaires. After these are completed, I check that all questions have been answered before the patient leaves. Once each patient has seen me, I enter the visit into an online system called the IWRS which assigns the medication, and I print the visit confirmation emails. Meanwhile, I use the time between each patient to start entering the visit date and questionnaires into the online data system. I watch out for any major changes and developing trends/patterns in the answers, so that I can share them with the principle investigator.


At 9:15 I go downstairs to the clinic and get the medication. I count and label it for each patient, so that each person has their 24 blisters for the next 3 months. At this point in the study the patients only come in every 3 months and have 2 telephone visits in between. This part is hectic and requires a lot of concentration. I must have at least the first patient’s medication ready by 10:30.

When each patient comes, they give me the blisters from the last visit. I check if all medication was taken. If not, I find out why and make a note of the reason. I then hand out the new medication. The patient has their meal and takes the medication. I write down the time of the meal, medication dosing and the number on the medication blister used. After this I check and scan the patient’s dosing diary. We chat briefly about how they are doing and about life in general. If anything stands out, I make a mental note to inform the investigators. The patients then go for the tests required by the protocol. These include blood draw and physical examination.


If everything runs smoothly from 8:00 onwards then it is now 12:00 and I can take my break.


At 12:31 I’m still waiting for the dry ice delivery, which is always ordered by email the day before the visit. This is for shipping frozen samples like sweat and blood for certain tests. The lab is also running late so I cannot pack any samples yet. While I wait, I finish entering the questionnaires and medication times into the online system.


At 13:00 the samples (still at room temperature) are brought to me. Now panic sets in. The dry ice still hasn’t arrived so I have to ring the Receipt and Distribution department and find out where it is. It arrived but delivery services hasn’t come by yet, so I go to the basement level and collect it myself. I then rush to the lab and get the frozen samples, hurry back to my office and pack all the samples. The dry ice is needed to transport the samples from lab to office. Without the dry ice, the samples start breaking down and become unusable. By the time I (manage to) finish it is 2:20 and the courier comes at 2:30. So it’s off to the main building through the tunnel system, I get there at 2:28, apologise for cutting it close and start filling in the parcel tracking log. Fortunately there are many shipments going out today which buys me some time.


At 14:40 I’m back in my office, wipe the sweat off my face and take a short break to drink some water and breathe. The next meeting with the research team is at 15:00 so I gather my notebook and pen, hope I haven’t forgotten anything and dash off. The meeting is productive. We discuss new projects, as well as any bottlenecks that came up during today‘s visit


At 16:00 I make my way back to my office, plonk into my chair, take a deep breath and decide that tomorrow is the day to complete data entry.

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