Clinical Research Mentorship Program for LMICs

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Published: 19 Jan 2024
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Dr Rebecca Wong - Princess Margaret Cancer Center, Toronto, Canada

Dr Rebecca Wong talks to ecancer about the Clinical Research Mentorship Program (CRMP) which highlights the inequalities in research reflecting in inequalities in care.

She discusses the importance of nurturing trainees and the journey they can take on to the program.

Dr Wong goes on to discuss the next steps for the program. 

Clinical Research Mentorship Program for LMICs

Dr Rebecca Wong - Princess Margaret Cancer Center, Toronto, Canada

Our project is entitled Clinical Research Mentorship Program, our trainees call it CRMP. It’s based on the premise that inequalities in research lead to inequalities in care and especially in the developing country, because of the overwhelming demand on the clinicians, there is a shortage of availability to support trainees. Trainees are really motivated to learn how to do research and we need to enable them and support them at the early stage when they are going through training. The premise of the program is designed to address that gap.

What we did was design a program that really mimics what we do for our own trainees back home in person but is all delivered virtually through international collaboration and through mentorship. It’s a one-year program. We start out with inviting interested trainees to provide us with a research topic that they are interested in. Once we admit them into the program they go through a 12-week research methods course by which time, at the end of it, they should have refined their research project proposal so that it’s ready for ethics submission and data collection.

During the remainder of the year, between the trainee, the local supervisor and the international mentor, they are supported to complete their project together with scheduled touch-points as a group. The peers will meet with the supervisors and the mentors together. By the end of the year we expect that they will have completed their project and be able to present the data in an abstract form to an international conference and be accepted and have the opportunity to present.

Halfway through our program we also build in a Mentoring the Mentor because we recognise that mentorship skills are very variable and it’s a six-week program that is evidence based that is designed to encourage conversation amongst the supervisors and the mentors to escalate the mentorship quality for our mentees.

What are the next steps for the program?

We started this program, the first offering was in 2016. We also have the hypothesis that this triad that I just described will enable capacity building but a secondary hypothesis is that by doing this program with different centres and different clinical environments the organisers, us, will be able to do it better and be more efficacious and impactful with subsequent cohorts of learners.

So the first cohort in 2016 was with Ghana and after that we asked them to introduce us to a colleague and we worked with Zimbabwe. Then in the third group we worked with Nigeria. Here, having had two years of experience, they encouraged us to expand it and here we worked with all seven training centres in Nigeria across the country. In 2022 we collaborated with AORTIC and sent out the call for proposals across the AORTIC membership. As a result, throughout the entire experience we have now had 24 alumni across 14 centres across Africa that have graduated from the program.

All of our trainees have completed their research project and presented it at international conferences with the exception of the Nigerian cohort where they were delayed by the COVID pandemic. In our evaluation program, which is critical to success and improvement of this program, we built in surveys and qualitative interviews to measure the immediate impact as well as capture the long-term impact. In our qualitative studies we were very happy to learn from our trainees that they were inspired by the experience and through it they encouraged them to include clinical research into their career path. They also told us they were inspired to pass it forward, they want to be mentors themselves to mentor the next generation because they really value the experience.

In the Mentoring the Mentor sessions we found that the mentors who participated felt that they have more knowledge about how to be a good mentor. Although the metrics around what the mentees experience probably need longer term follow-up for us to see a difference.

We also captured some of the early experiences career path of the early mentees and we’re happy to see that at least a couple of them have taken on additional fellowship training and have now become independent investigators attracting grants and also, more importantly, starting programs in Africa that change the practice and impact patient care.