Finding a CURE: engaging students to improve research

Finding a CURE: engaging students to improve research

Increasing research capacity without compromising care

Building a culture where research is intertwined with daily clinical activities requires improvements in efficiency as well as innovation. Research activities cannot compromise clinical care or limit the number of patients a team can support. In search of a productive marriage between the two, Mandy Rickard, a pediatric nurse practitioner and researcher in Pediatric Urology at McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH), sought out a creative solution to support her team’s growing workload.

“It was hard to maintain our research activity. We needed to find a better system.”

“We were working so hard to increase the amount of research we were doing as our patient volumes also continued to increase,” Rickard recalls. “We were collecting data from patients in our clinics, then inputting it in the evenings. It was hard to maintain our research activity. We needed to find a better system.”

Patient volumes in the Pediatric Urology service at MCH have increased steadily over the last number of years and it now cares for roughly 7000 patients each year. Led by Dr. Luis Braga, director of the McMaster Pediatric Surgery Research Collaborative, the group’s research output has also expanded. Both demands outpaced the capacity of the small team. Reducing patient volumes was, for obvious reasons, not an acceptable solution, but the prospect of cutting back on research projects was also not ideal. The clinical research conducted by this team has a direct impact on patient care and allows them to provide better assessment, management and surveillance of pediatric urology conditions.

Tapping into young talent

Rickard looked to a volunteer model used at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto to support their research. She and her team created a partnership with McMaster University, and developed the Clinical Urology Research Enterprise (CURE) Program. Students from the university help to collect and input data, a simple but time-consuming process. They are able to gain valuable practical experience, and the clinical team can focus its attention on providing exceptional patient care, while moving research projects forward.

“I have learned a tremendous amount on the various processes involved in clinical research,” notes Deion D’Souza, a CURE volunteer who has been involved in the program for two years. “It has equipped me with transferable skills and clinical knowledge that I could not have gained anywhere else.”

“We’re also helping to build a new generation of health research experts, and that’s important.”

A win-win situation

“It’s a win-win,” says Rickard. “We’re really making a name for ourselves. As a group, we’ve doubled the number of research abstracts we’ve submitted to conferences. The student volunteers gain important experience, and patient care improves as well.”

With funding from HHS Research Administration and the Department of Pediatric Surgery, the CURE Program was recently able to establish an office space with equipment and computers for volunteers.

“This partnership is improving current research, and will benefit research as a whole in the future,” says Katie Porter, director of research administration at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS). “The CURE Program is engaging our community, enhancing our research productivity, and impacting the lives of our patients. We’re also helping to build a new generation of health research experts, and that’s important.”