program offers physicians around the world the opportunity to gain clinical research skills | New
Enrollments jumped at Harvard Chan School’s executive education program
November 3, 2022 – Each year, from March to November, approximately 400 students from around the world meet each week for three hours, some in person in a classroom at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, and others on d other sites around the world. , by videoconference, to learn how to conduct clinical research.
They participate in a program called Principles and Practice of Clinical Research (PPCR), taught by physician Felipe Fregni, a professor in the Harvard Chan School’s Department of Epidemiology and director of a clinical research laboratory at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. , focused on neuromodulation—techniques to help patients after damage to the nervous system.
Launched at Harvard Medical School in 2006, the PPCR has been offered since 2016 as part of the Executive and Continuing Professional Education (ECPE) program at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. To date, more than 5,000 people from 60 countries have participated and registrations have jumped by a third in the last six years alone. “This is by far our most important program,” said Susan Roth, Executive Director of ECPE. She credits Fregni for the program’s popularity. “He’s just passionate in heart and soul,” she said.
Fregni’s goal is to inspire early career physicians to learn how to conduct clinical research, just as he was inspired when he came to Harvard from his native Brazil in 2007 for this purpose. “We teach them everything they need to know about clinical research that they never learned well in medical school because they were busy learning pathology, microbiology and all the other subjects you learn in medical training,” Fregni said.
Clinical research, he noted, is essential to improving medicine. “Medicine is based on evidence. But clinicians need to understand the evidence,” he said. “Clinical research gives us the tools to generate evidence as well as to understand it, to understand why treatments work or don’t work, or why they only work in a certain population.”
During the nine months of the program, students receive a nut-soup introduction to what is involved in clinical research, such as how to review existing literature on a particular clinical question, choose research methods, design a clinical trial , perform statistical analysis and produce a manuscript for publication. Such skills can be difficult to obtain in developing countries. “The PPCR helps fill a gap,” Roth said.
PPCR students come from all parts of the world, including Brazil, China, Guatemala, Japan, Nigeria, and Qatar. Every Thursday, Fregni teaches an in-person class of about 40 students in Harvard Chan School’s Kresge Building. Other student groups gather at sites around the world and participate via video; they are visible on screens placed around the Kresge classroom. Students unable to join one of the group sites participate individually. The program also includes two intensive online workshops on statistics and manuscript writing, and a five-day in-person immersion course in which Harvard faculty review and discuss material presented throughout the year. and students present their group projects to the whole class.
Periodically throughout the year, Fregni carries out site visits. If he is at one of the PPCR sites on a Thursday, he teaches the regular class session from that location. He also makes time during his visits for meetings outside of class with PPCR students and alumni, advising them on career goals as well as future educational opportunities or research projects.
One of the strengths of the course is the emphasis on practical work. Each student must propose a clinical research project. Fregni and other professors in the program guide the work, and the students support each other throughout the process, working in small groups.
During this year’s program, which ends November 3, Adriana Costanza, a student from Costa Rica, developed a study to evaluate a potential therapy to cure cow’s milk allergy in infants. Maria Hernandez, a Colombian student, conducted a meta-analysis on bone disease and chronic pancreatitis. Yousra Mahgoub from Sudan explored a new approach to treating and managing dengue fever, a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to apply it in real life, but it would be great if we could,” she said. “This could potentially reduce mortality.”
The connections made in the program are invaluable, the students noted. “I made some really good friends on the course,” Hernandez said. “And understanding how medical practice is practiced in other countries also serves as a basis for self-assessment and finding ways to improve.”
Valentina Guatibonza said that although her native Colombia does not have enough resources to conduct much clinical research, she is determined to use her new skills to improve the situation. “Everything I learn, I can take back to my country,” she said.
– Karen Feldscher
photos: Kent Dayton