Advancing the Science

Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog – an eclectic collection of research- and research education-related stories: feature stories, mini news bites, learning opportunities, profiles and more from Mayo Clinic.

March 6, 2019

Online training demystifies research and catalyzes productivity

By Caitlin Doran

Mayo Clinic has a deep well of potential research talent. At last count, Mayo Clinic employed more than 3,800 full-time research personnel, including 234 full-time science faculty and 740 physicians actively involved in research.  These numbers barely scratch the surface when it comes to the depth and breadth of Mayo Clinic’s research pool.

In addition, Mayo Clinic employs more than 65,000 staff, including a wide variety of clinical and allied health staff and Mayo Clinic’s College of Medicine and Science has more than 4,000 active students and trainees

“With the right training,” says David Warner, M.D., director of education programs for the Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS), “any staff member or student has the potential to contribute to Mayo Clinic’s research mission. The more people we have engaged in research and the more diverse their backgrounds and experiences, the better when it comes to helping our patients.”

Self-paced, self-directed research training

Fundamentals of Clinical and Translational Science (FunCaTS):
Provides an overview of the fundamental components of clinical and translational science, such as developing good research questions, study design, writing research proposals, and understanding biostatistics.

Essentials of Clinical and Translational Science (ECaTS):
Builds on the content from FunCaTS, providing foundational knowledge of biostatistics and epidemiology research methodology, enabling participants to critically review medical literature and move their research forward..

How does Mayo Clinic hone and develop its own talent?

CCaTS currently offers two online courses designed to provide the training needed to take the first steps in research: Fundamentals of Clinical and Translational Science (FunCaTS) and Essentials of Clinical and Translational Science (ECaTS).

Leveling the playing field

Bridging this sort of gap in training is what Mayo’s FunCaTS and ECaTS courses are designed to do. People come to research with a variety of experiences and education, and often without any formal training in research. These courses provide a chance to level the playing field, giving participants a foundation that will enable them to succeed.

The Mayo Clinic Department of Internal Medicine requires all residents to complete FunCaTS prior to beginning any research rotation. “We want to make sure we are providing a solid foundation for all of our residents, regardless of background, so they can be successful in their future research activities,” says Amy Oxentenko, M.D., director of the internal medicine residency program.

Garrett Schramm, R.Ph., is also a firm believer in providing research training for staff. He is director of pharmacy education at Mayo Clinic and his department requires ECaTS for all new pharmacy residents.  In addition, the courses are highly encouraged for all pharmacy clinical staff.  “I think some people can get intimidated by the idea of research,” he says. “They may feel uncertain of their knowledge and abilities, or may have had previous negative experiences. Research training helps set the stage and demystifies the process.”

“I did not have this sort of resource available at other places I’ve worked and studied,” says Meghana Halkar, M.B.B.S., a resident in cardiovascular medicine at Mayo Clinic. “I struggled with research methodology and with finding systematic approaches to search the medical literature.” After coming to Mayo Clinic, Dr. Halkar sought out the ECaTS online course in order to gain a firmer knowledge of research.

2018 pharmacy residents

Gabrielle Anderson, Pharm.D., R.Ph., is a second year emergency medicine pharmacy resident. She says the research training she has received has paid off. The knowledge she gained helps in her day-to-day clinical activities as she works alongside other health care providers in the Emergency Department. “It’s important to know how to evaluate the literature critically, to understand study design and statistics so you can apply it to practice and provide evidence-based care,” she says.

Training good for the whole team

The ability to critically read and interpret scientific literature is a vital skill for everyone in health care and medical research.

Kara Mangold is a nursing education specialist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona who recently completed ECaTS as part of the Education Science Career Development Award program.  She says learning to read research is an important learning need in nursing. “I’ve worked with some nurses who say that they just read the introduction and the discussion and hope the researchers did okay with the stats, “ she says. “I want to find ways we can grow as nurses so we know that what we’re reading is actually based on good science.” Nurses are recognized nationally as the most trusted profession, she says. “We have a lot to contribute to the team.”

Lee Skrupky, Pharm.D., R.Ph., a pharmacy education manager at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, agrees. “Everyone on the team having a comparable level of knowledge and shared terminology helps improve our communication and improves efficiency. If I’m handing off a data set to a statistician and I have a better understanding of statistics, I probably created my database in a smarter way from the very beginning.”

Career development resources that catalyze productivity

Garrett Schramm, R.Ph.

“Research is one of the three shields at Mayo Clinic and research activity is a great way to stand out—for individual staff and for departments,” says Dr. Schramm.  He says research has opened many doors for his staff, over the years. “There’s always somebody who is looking to be a trailblazer. ECaTS is a tool that can help those people achieve career goals or pursue a passion.”

Encouraging staff to pursue their passions can be good for the department as whole. The pharmacy department began offering a research training program 10 years ago, and ever since then, says Dr. Schramm, the department’s research productivity has skyrocketed.

“We have pharmacists,” Dr. Schramm says, “who, before the program, had never done research. And now they’re 30 or 40 publications into their research careers and they’re getting grants and all sorts of recognition for their work. Our residents’ research publication rate is 75%. And that’s in high-profile journals. I have yet to find another residency program with anything like that level of success.”

“We have to put effort and resources into training our staff,” says Dr. Schramm, but that effort pays huge dividends. The pharmacy department hires approximately half of its residents, and all of those individuals are equipped to go on to become productive research team members or independent researchers.  “It’s an investment in the future,” he says. “Get these people trained and they could be making research a part of their daily activity for the next 30 years. It’s hard to put a price on that.”

Heidi Felix, right

Heidi Felix, an education specialist at the simulation center at Mayo Clinic in Florida, agrees that staff research training is a good investment. “They’ve started encouraging fellows at the simulation center to take FunCaTS,” she says. “I would consider encouraging ECaTS as well. If you’re on a certain career trajectory, it just makes sense.”

Spreading the word outside Mayo Clinic

While FunCaTS and ECaTS are primarily used by staff and students at Mayo Clinic, the courses are also available to the public.  Dr. Schramm often talks to colleagues at other institutions about the research training programs. “There’s so much opportunity for a program like this,” he says. “I tell my peers outside Mayo Clinic about our program and all the resources we’re afforded. I don’t think we realize how fortunate we are at Mayo Clinic to have programs like FunCaTS and ECaTS, and all the other support for research here.”

“There are people everywhere, inside and outside Mayo Clinic, who are genuinely interested in engaging in research at a level greater than they do now,” says Nathan Staff, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of CCaTS online programs. “FunCaTS and ECaTS are directed at those individuals, who maybe have a bit of knowledge and a bit of curiosity, who just need a little push.”


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Tags: Amy Oxentenko, cardiovascular medicine, Center for Clinical and Translational Science, David Warner, Education, Gabrielle Anderson, Garrett Schramm, Heidi Felix, Kara Mangold, Lee Skrupky, medical research, Meghana Halkar, Nathan Staff, People, research education

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