Pictured: Deveena Arasaratnam (Left top row) and Jasmine Mikovic (Right top row) together with fellow SKILLED Interns
Backed by MTPConnect's Researcher Exchange and Development within Industry initiative, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Alliance's SKILLED internship program is generating a talent pipeline for the clinical trials sector.
Australia is known globally as an optimal clinical trials destination. In recent years, the sector has developed into one of the country's most important and valuable service exports; in 2019, it contributed approximately $1.4 billion to the economy, while more than 95,000 Australians participated in the 1,880 trials that took place across the country.1
This burgeoning sector requires a highly trained workforce, yet it currently faces a skills shortage due to a lack of professional development pathways. To fill this gap, in 2019 the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Alliance (VCCC Alliance), in partnership with the Parkville Cancer Clinical Trials Unit (PCCTU), launched the SKILLED clinical trials internship program. The 40-week program provides a talent pipeline for the sector, enabling science-based graduates to cultivate role-specific knowledge, experience and skills through on-site training.
Successful pilots for cohorts in 2019 and 2020 prompted financial support from MTPConnect's Researcher Exchange and Development within Industry (REDI) initiative: a $32 million initiative funded by the Australian Government's Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), which aims to drive skills development and training throughout the medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical (MTP) workforce.
VCCC Alliance's SKILLED program runs clinical trial streams for two in-demand roles: Clinical Trial Assistants (CTAs) and Study Coordinators (SCs). The 2021 program is also piloting a Pharmacy Technician Clinical Trial Assistant model.
Underpinned by tailored competency frameworks for each role, the SKILLED clinical trials internship program has been developed with a quantitative assessment grading system, based on relevant international competencies. It places interns into clinical trial environments at a number of host sites, giving students access to practical, hands-on training, supported by theory-based learning. Using their research skills, interns are also expected to identify and implement a quality or efficiency improvement project at their site.
In 2021, the SKILLED program placed 21 interns (nine SCs and 12 CTAs) across 12 host sites. Eleven interns from the cohort were based at six regional sites, in line with a recent focus on increasing the number and complexity of clinical trials that can be conducted - and accessed by patients - in regional and rural areas.
As the only initiative of its kind in Australia, the SKILLED clinical trials internship program has generated significant national and international interest and is inundated each year with applications. Given the program's prestigious reputation, job opportunities are often funnelled exclusively to past and current VCCC Alliance SKILLED interns, who are highly sought-after in the clinical trials sector.
All interns developed a requisite level of competency to enter the job market as CTAs and SCs with over 90 percent of graduates employed in clinical trial units and healthcare services, for example.
Having completed an SC internship at Parkville Cancer Clinical Trials Unit (PCCTU), Deevina Arasaratnam said: "The SKILLED program taught me to use my scientific knowledge & skills to bridge the gap between basic laboratory research and translational medicine. While we are constantly evolving our knowledge about the biology of health and illness, it is equally important that we learn how to harness these scientific advances in clinical settings. The internship offers an invaluable opportunity for researchers to develop skills in clinical trials and fast-track their way into clinical roles."
The PCCTU Manager wrote: "Deevina Arasaratnam completed her Study Co-ordinator internship with us during 2020, our first year of dealing with COVID. She improved home drug delivery which is currently integrated into the site's daily practice. Deevina has been employed as a Study Co-ordinator with us after her internship working in the Lung and Colorectal cancer trial team. She has improved the processes for pre-screening samples and thus improved timelines and patient recruitment. She also has her own portfolio of trials to coordinate and is in the process of starting up her first Phase 1 trials. Deevina has brought her research knowledge and logistical skills and her internship training to become an excellent Study Coordinator."
Jasmine Mikovic, a Study Co-ordinator intern at Ballarat Health, added: "It is a fantastic opportunity to gain insight into the industry, gain exclusive access to training resources, and develop highly sought-after job skills. These experiences and skill sets can be used to transition into the job or be transferred elsewhere. This program helped me transition to a new career path in clinical research, gain valuable industry experience, and develop skills that are highly desirable in a variety of industries."
Jasmine was employed by her host site Ballarat Health at the completion of the internship and more recently took up a position with PPD, a pharmaceutical company.
Applications have closed for the 2022 SKILLED cohort, and the internships will commence in early 2022.
To register your interest in the SKILLED clinical trials internship program, email Chris Packer, Manager, SKILLED Program at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rachel Barrett, SKILLED Internship Program Coordinator, at email@example.com
REDI support for the SKILLED program continues until 2024. For information about REDI, visit MTPConnect.
1. ‘Australia’s Clinical Trials Sector – Advancing Innovative Healthcare and Powering Economic Growth’, https://www.mtpconnect.org.au/... trials report (web version).pdf