Adding clinical trials to your neurology practice can be rewarding, and it can be a nice additional revenue stream. Or it can go horribly, horribly wrong—if you don’t hire the right staff, that is.

First on the list of hires, if you want to tip the scales in your favor, is a good study coordinator. That’s according to long-time trialist Dr. David Weisman.

Dr. David Weisman

A study coordinator, also called a clinical research coordinator, is the person who runs the day-to-day operations of a clinical trial under the direction of the trial’s principal investigator (PI). They perform tasks such as recruiting and screening patients, communicating with trial sponsors, and handling financial matters and personnel.

According to the job site Glassdoor.com, a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a health science field is a standard prerequisite for clinical research coordinators. But if you are adding clinical trials to a private practice, you can hire anyone you want. A rookie mistake made by a lot of physicians, Weisman says, is to hire someone they already have on staff, such as a medical assistant, to fill that role.

“The person who is a study coordinator has a completely different skill set than a person who’s a medical assistant,” he says. “Being nice is not enough. A lot of doctors think, ‘They’re really nice. They’ll be good with subjects.’ And yes, that’s important, but you also need somebody who’s diligent. You need somebody who is not afraid to solve problems, make recommendations, make some decisions, know who to call. How do I know that? Because I’ve screwed it up.”

If you get the wrong person in place, “you’re going to face horrible obstacles, and you are going to not only lose the trial, but you’ll never do another trial,” he adds. Even if it is the study coordinator that got something wrong, “ultimately, you’re responsible.”

So, how do you find a good study coordinator?

There are training programs and even an Association of Clinical Research Professionals where you can find people with the right qualifications. That, however, isn’t necessary. The type of person you hire is more important, Weisman says.

“The perfect study coordinator that I want is someone with a college degree, who has basically devoted themselves to something intellectual,” he adds. “I don’t care if that’s an analysis of Mark Twain vs. [Jonathan] Franzen in some obscure literary genre. It doesn’t matter. Just thinking. Writing a paper. Solving a problem — that prepares somebody to be a study coordinator, full stop. Right out of college? Terrific. A couple years of experience? Terrific. Ten years of experience? You probably can’t afford them, but terrific.”

The most experienced study coordinator might be out of your financial reach when you are first starting out, but this position is still where you may need to make a substantial investment.

“Their salary is commensurate with their experience and expertise and intelligence and diligence,” Weisman says. “All those things make them a high value employee.”

Make a good investment up front and adding clinical trials to your practice can pay off in spades.

Special thanks to David Weisman, MD, director of the Clinical Trial Center at Abington Neurological Associates. You can learn more about him on his provider page.