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The translational sciences clinic: From bench to bedside

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 August 2020

Perry Halushka*
Affiliation:
Departments of Pharmacology and Medicine, College of Graduate Studies, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA
Tammy L. Loucks
Affiliation:
South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA
Rechelle Paranal
Affiliation:
South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA
Jillian Harvey
Affiliation:
Department of Healthcare Leadership and Management, College of Health Professions, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA
Kristen Briggman
Affiliation:
South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA
Diana Lee-Chavarria
Affiliation:
South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA
Carol Feghali-Bostwick
Affiliation:
South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA
*
Address for correspondence: P. V. Halushka, PhD, MD, College of Graduate Studies, Medical University of South Carolina, 86 President Street, MSC501, Charleston, SC29425, USA. Email: halushpv@musc.edu
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Abstract

The mission of the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) is to speed the development of drugs from discovery to approval to dissemination and implementation. The Medical University of South Carolina and the South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute host a NCATS funded predoctoral T32 training grant (TL1) with a focus on translational research. Doctoral (PhD) trainees working at the bench usually have limited opportunity for clinical interactions to gain a clinical perspective on the diseases that are the focus of their dissertation research. To provide TL1 trainees with an opportunity to see how their research could be translated into improved patient care, we developed a mentored clinical exposure experience named the Translational Sciences Clinic. Trainees spend one-half day a week in a clinic related to their basic science research for one semester interacting with patients and clinical mentors and discuss the most recent literature related to the patient’s clinical problem with their clinical mentor. Trainees deemed the rotation to be one of the most rewarding experiences that they had as a part of their predoctoral training. Participating clinical mentors were also very enthusiastic and agreed that they would be willing to mentor similar trainees again.

Type
Special Communications
Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BY
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Copyright
© The Association for Clinical and Translational Science 2020

Introduction

The fundamental underpinning of impactful clinical/translational research is solid basic science research [Reference Fort1]. PhD trainees, while often conducting basic science research that may some day lead to a new therapeutic or diagnostic approach, rarely have the opportunity to see the potential clinical impact that their discovery may have on patients. As a result, there is often not a clear understanding of how the bench research may impact individuals with the condition being studied. Thus, we felt that it was important to create an opportunity for PhD trainees to engage with patients affected by the diseases that they were researching. Through these patient interactions, our goal was to close the divide between basic science and patient care by providing trainees with real-life experiences that may impact how they think about the significance of their research in the future. To provide that experience, we had them participate in the Translational Sciences Clinic. The concept of the Translational Sciences Clinic originated in the Medical University of South Carolina Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) approximately 12 years ago, and the offering has been a highly rated translational research experience by both faculty and the MD/PhD students. Thus, we decided to implement this very successful translational/team science activity for the predoctoral TL1 trainees based on the reasoning that this approach would enable predoctoral trainees to experience first-hand how their laboratory-based research could address a clinical or therapeutic need and directly impact patients’ lives. It also highlights the significance of the translational research process and strengthens the trainees’ mentoring teams by incorporating clinical mentors. The experience was structured so that it would not significantly prolong the time for the trainees to obtain their PhD degree.

The TL1 trainees shadow a clinical mentor for one-half day a week in an outpatient clinic. The clinical mentor is a physician who is chosen based on his/her area of practice and demonstrated commitment to mentoring. They are also paired whenever possible with a K scholar to provide a near-peer type mentoring experience. The semester-long course is two credit hours and the clinic in which the trainees choose to attend is directly related to their PhD dissertation research. The TL1 trainees participate in this clinical experience during the third year of their PhD program since they are well into their dissertation research and usually have no other didactic requirements at that time. At this point, they have also learned how to utilize their time more efficiently. Expected results from participation in the course include the ability to (1) demonstrate a detailed understanding of the pathophysiology and treatment of the disease and (2) demonstrate knowledge of current research literature and provide references (Table 1).

Table 1. Guidelines for the Translational Sciences Clinic. The guidelines are provided to the trainee and mentor before the start of the rotation

The Translational Sciences Clinic also serves as a compliment to the TL1 program’s unique journal club [Reference Feghali-Bostwick2]. The trainees participate in the Journal Club during their first year in the TL1 program. The Journal Club provides the trainees the opportunity to see the evolution of a basic science discovery through the process to dissemination and implementation. Thus, the Translational Sciences Clinic provides the opportunity to extend what the trainees learned in the Journal Club.

Methods

Guidelines were established for the rotation (Table 1) and were provided to the trainees and clinical mentors in advance of the trainees coming to the clinic for the first time. The trainees were also required to complete the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) training course before they participated in the clinic. Although they did not have direct access to the patient’s medical history or electronic health record, this course provided essential information about the importance of preserving and implications for breaching patient confidentiality. Since 2016, 27 PhD and dual-degree students have taken the Translational Sciences Clinic as part of the TL1 predoctoral training program. The majority of students (22; 81%) were/are pursuing PhDs from the College of Graduate Studies. Four (15%) were/are part of the dual-degree MD/PhD MSTP from the College of Medicine/College of Graduate Studies and one student (3%) was in the DMD/PhD program from the College of Dental Medicine.

Clinical mentors represented a range of specialties including pediatric hematology/oncology, pediatric infectious diseases, neurology/movement disorders, surgery, oncology/hematology, rheumatology, dental medicine, pulmonology, pediatrics, and psychiatry. The mentors were assistant, associate, or full professors and several were also institutional career development (KL2) scholars. The latter provided some near-peer mentoring. A list of potential clinical mentors was provided to the trainees; however, they could choose a mentor not on the list; mentors were required to have an MD or MD/PhD and work in a clinic related to the trainee’s dissertation topic. In either case, the selection of the clinical mentor had to be approved by either the TL1 program director or associate program director. Other trainee requirements included dressing professionally, acquainting themselves with the clinical operations/guidelines prior to shadowing, and completing the required mentor evaluation. Trainees were also expected to complete literature searches on the disease topics to discuss with the clinical mentor and serve as a review article framework, when appropriate.

Clinical mentors were expected to introduce the trainee to the staff and rules of the clinic, identify patients for the trainee to shadow, confer with the trainee, and furnish a final grade and trainee evaluation (Table 1).

An important component of this training experience was to be able to fully evaluate both the trainees’ and mentors’ experiences. Thus, in 2016, we formulated a series of questions that we felt would provide insight into the perceptions of both the trainee and the mentor. Questions were developed by a multidisciplinary team to assess mentor and mentee perception of progress toward program goals [Reference Jones, Baxter and Khanduja3] and were evaluated by the team for content, clarity, ease of understanding, usefulness, and comprehensiveness through an iterative process [Reference Featherall4]. Between 2018 and 2019, the survey response scale was adapted to assess level of agreement (strongly agree to strongly disagree) rather than assessment of quality (outstanding to poor).

At the end of the semester, the clinical mentors and trainees completed the evaluation forms (Tables 2a and 3a). The surveys were administered anonymously by the program assistant, and responses were compiled for the program director, associate program director, and South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute program coordinator to review (Supplementary Information). The surveys were used for quality improvement/program evaluation purposes and were classified as such by the institutional review board. Therefore, no informed consent was required. The mentor was required to discuss their evaluation with the trainee and provide a final grade. The trainee completed the form but did not have to share their evaluation with the mentor. Both forms were submitted to a central location for review by the program director and associate program director. Evaluations were initially administered using paper forms, and the data were entered into a REDCap database by a TL1 program staff member [Reference Harris5]. Evaluations are now administered solely using REDCap to ensure confidential and secure storage of data.

Table 2. Evaluation by the trainees (a) and truncated anecdotal comments from the trainees (b). From 2016 to 2018, trainees provided responses to four evaluation questions using a four-point scale ranging from outstanding (1) to poor (2). In 2019, the same evaluation questions were administered but on a five-point scale (1 – strongly agree, 2 – agree, 3 – undecided, 4 – disagree, and 5 – strongly disagree). Both the trainee and the mentor were encouraged to provide comments at the bottom of the evaluation forms

Table 3. Evaluation by the mentors (a) and mentors’ comments (b). From 2016 to 2018, mentors provided responses to five evaluation questions using a four-point scale ranging from outstanding (1) to poor (2). In 2019, the same evaluation questions were administered but on a five-point scale (1 – strongly agree, 2 – agree, 3 – undecided, 4 – disagree, and 5 – strongly disagree). Both the trainee and the mentor were encouraged to provide comments at the bottom of the evaluation forms

Results

Perhaps, the most rewarding results were the responses of the trainees; they ranked all questions predominantly strongly agree or outstanding (Table 2a). Of particular note was that between 90 and 100% of the trainees responded that this course helped them to better understand incorporating basic science research into clinical care; they also reported a greater appreciation for integrating concepts from scientific literature into disease treatments. As can be seen in the trainees’ anecdotal comments, the Translational Sciences Clinic course was a very valuable experience for them (Table 2b). Interestingly, there were no negative comments about their experiences.

The clinical mentors rated the trainees positively in all categories (Table 3a). Their anecdotal comments reinforced the positive experiences that they had with the trainees (Table 3b). The mentors also had to provide the final grade for the trainees; most received a grade of honors and the rest received a pass. None of the trainees received a no pass grade. We believe that changing the rating scale (2019 cohort) to level of agreement made it easier for the mentors to objectively rate the trainees. The mentors were all asked if they would like to participate in this program again in the future and they said yes.

The mentors represented many medical disciplines and specialties. We purposely did not restrict the mentor pool to any specific discipline since the trainees’ research interests were quite broad.

Discussion

The positive experiences of both the mentors and trainees motivated our program to create awareness of this unique translational research experience so that it can be adapted at other academic institutions. It should be recognized that the vast majority of trainees were third-year PhD candidates with no prior clinical exposure, yet they were not intimidated by the clinical experience and exposure to patients. Instead, as noted in their comments, they found the Translational Sciences Clinic to be one of the most rewarding experiences of their PhD training. We recognize that the comments that we have selected are anecdotal, but it should be noted that there were no negative comments by the trainees.

The innovation of this clinical rotation experience lies in the fact that PhD trainees had the opportunity to see patients with the diseases upon which they were conducting their research. The unique experience also speaks to National Center for Advancing Translational Science’s (NCATS) mission of catalyzing the generation of innovative methods and technologies that will enhance the development, testing, and implementation of diagnostics and therapeutics across a wide range of human diseases and conditions [Reference Fort1]. As a result of seeing patients with their disease of interest, participating trainees clearly gained a better understanding of how their research could ultimately be translated from bench to bedside.

Another outcome of the Translational Sciences Clinic was the trainees’ exposure to a team-based approach to patient care. Since there are often many professional personnel of diverse backgrounds involved in the care of the patients, the trainees gained a better appreciation of a team-based approach to problem solving (diagnosing and developing a treatment plan) which could be directly applied to their research projects.

The final question on the mentors’ evaluation form was “Would you be willing to mentor a student again?” They all responded affirmatively, further reinforcing the enthusiasm the clinical mentors had for having PhD trainees shadow in their clinics. Many of the students discussed research-related papers with the mentors in the context of the patient’s diagnosis, furthering the concept of translational research from basic science to public health. In summary, the positive outcomes and responses from both students and physician–scientists involved in the course made the Translational Sciences Clinic a highly effective and beneficial course for TL1 trainees. The structures and guidelines for this unique translational research experience could be easily replicated at other academic medical centers for TL1 trainees or PhD students.

Supplementary material

To view supplementary material for this article, please visit https://doi.org/10.1017/cts.2020.529.

Acknowledgements

This Translational Sciences Clinic and its participants were supported in part by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Grant Numbers TL1 TR001451 (Halushka) and UL TR001450 (Brady). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Disclosures

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

References

Fort, DG, et al. Mapping the evolving definitions of translational research. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science 2017; 1: 6066.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Feghali-Bostwick, C, et al. A team based translational journal club: understanding the translational research highway. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science 2019; 3: 291294.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jones, TL, Baxter, MAJ, Khanduja, V. A quick guide to survey research. Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons England 2013; 95: 57.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Featherall, J, et al. Characterization of patient interests in provider-based consumer health information technology: survey study. JMIR 2018; 20(4): e128.Google ScholarPubMed
Harris, P, et al. Research electronic data capture (REDCap): a metadata-driven methodology and workflow process for providing translational research informatics support. Journal of Biomedical Informatics 2009; 42(2): 377381.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Figure 0

Table 1. Guidelines for the Translational Sciences Clinic. The guidelines are provided to the trainee and mentor before the start of the rotation

Figure 1

Table 2. Evaluation by the trainees (a) and truncated anecdotal comments from the trainees (b). From 2016 to 2018, trainees provided responses to four evaluation questions using a four-point scale ranging from outstanding (1) to poor (2). In 2019, the same evaluation questions were administered but on a five-point scale (1 – strongly agree, 2 – agree, 3 – undecided, 4 – disagree, and 5 – strongly disagree). Both the trainee and the mentor were encouraged to provide comments at the bottom of the evaluation forms

Figure 2

Table 3. Evaluation by the mentors (a) and mentors’ comments (b). From 2016 to 2018, mentors provided responses to five evaluation questions using a four-point scale ranging from outstanding (1) to poor (2). In 2019, the same evaluation questions were administered but on a five-point scale (1 – strongly agree, 2 – agree, 3 – undecided, 4 – disagree, and 5 – strongly disagree). Both the trainee and the mentor were encouraged to provide comments at the bottom of the evaluation forms

Supplementary material: PDF

Halushka et al. supplementary material

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