After more than 20 years in the clinical development industry, PRA’s Senior Vice President and General Manager Nicole Duffey is just as passionate and dedicated to patients as she was the day she started. Nicole began her career as a Registered Nurse but, after an opportunity to review clinical data came her way, she transitioned into clinical research where she felt she could make a broader and more global impact for patients. Today, she remains committed to ensuring patients receive the best care possible while also elevating nurses and women in the industry. Below, she shares her perspectives and advice for up-and-coming researchers.
What’s the biggest challenge our industry faces today?
In my view, the biggest is inequity in access to healthcare in the US which, in the midst of the pandemic, is becoming more problematic as unemployment rates rise. Much change is needed overall, but we do have an opportunity to impact more equitable healthcare delivery through innovations such as virtual clinical trials that reduce barriers, notably in underserved communities, and bring the trial to the patient.
Why did you become involved in clinical research?
I am a Registered Nurse by education and background. I became involved with clinical research when I was approached by a pharma company who was looking for nurses to review clinical data more than 20 years ago. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the industry, but was intrigued by the opportunity and eventually inspired that I could use my clinical background to make a broader impact beyond the patients and families with whom I directly interacted with in patient care.
In your experience, what has been the most important factor that has changed drug development?
Access to healthcare overall is the problem that is most severely impacting society. We see this notably in places like the US where healthcare access is not universal and is very much tied to an individual’s employment and socioeconomic status. Therefore, the most important factor that has changed drug development is the increased access to clinical trials with the use of technology such as the Mobile Health Platform. This technology enables patients who previously would not have been able to participate to take part in clinical studies without the burden of getting to and from the clinic or hospital.
What is the biggest misconception people have about clinical trials?
I think the biggest misconception that people have about clinical trials is that participants will not be protected and are therefore taking a big risk by participating.
Increased public education about the drug development process—notably the phases of testing that occur prior to and within human clinical trials and the safety parameters that are in place—can help assuage that general lack of trust in the process.
How has clinical research affected your life personally?
I have a niece named Amanda who has a rare disease for which there is no cure. She was not expected to live beyond 10 years old, yet just celebrated her 30th birthday. Amanda was one of the main reasons why I wanted to work in healthcare. While there is still no cure for her rare disease, Amanda has surprised her own medical community with her resilience. I’m continually inspired by the remarkable daily care provided to her by my sister and the management of her symptoms. I know that, like Amanda, there are thousands of patients with unmet medical needs. The work that we’re doing in clinical research is critical to making progress and improving lives.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, which would you choose?
Empathetic, perceptive, and determined.
What’s an interesting fact about your childhood?
When I was a young child, I was involved in a car accident in which our vehicle became stuck on the tracks and was hit by an oncoming freight train. Remarkably, all of the passengers in our vehicle were able to escape the vehicle before the collision and without physical injury. This shaped my outlook on life in that I try not to take things for granted. I aim to ensure others know how I feel and I give all of myself to whatever it is that I take on.
If you were to write a self-help book, what would the topic be?
If I were to write a self-help book, it would be designed to empower women—to help guide them through common career challenges, break down actual or perceived barriers, manage work-life balance, and advocate for themselves and fellow women.
What advice would you give to the next generation of researchers?
I would advise that the next generation of researchers harness and maintain a spirit of innovation. It’s important that individuals create time and brain space for themselves, and that they align with an organization that supports an innovative culture. The industry is highly regulated; however, that should not preclude researchers from pushing out-of-the-box concepts that can change the way we conduct clinical trials and ultimately improve patients’ lives.
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