Chris Todd, MPH, has worked at Duke for close to 13 years and has been working as a project and program manager with the Duke Health Vaccine Institute (DHVI) for the past five years. His career path from virology to quality assurance to clinical trial program management was not a planned trajectory, but Chris has appreciated the opportunity to learn from several great mentors and he values the knowledge and skills gained from each position. In 2018, Chris became the Associate Director for Program Management at DHVI. In this role, he leads a team of project managers working on 25-30 clinical trials, 3 large NIH program contracts, and directly manages eight clinical trials himself. While it is a lot to manage, Chris is quick to mention that he has a great team, and that makes it much easier.
As a clinical trials project manager, Chris works in partnership with faculty members and principal investigators and contributes to each stage of the clinical trials to “identify and write grant applications, draft the protocols, activate the trial sites, oversee the finances, monitor the trials from beginning to end, and contribute to manuscript development.” For Chris, managing clinical trials projects is exciting, because he is invested in each step of the project; every day is different and the sum of the process is very rewarding. He finds that the scientific advantages of working in larger teams far outweigh the challenges. Chris explains “It may take longer to get something approved or developed because you need to solicit everyone’s input. But, at the same time, it’s a tremendous benefit to include everyone’s ideas and different perspectives. And, DHVI was built on a collaborative work structure - operating several multi-site studies, federally-funded program grants, and clinical trials.” To prepare for the periodic staff turnover that can accompany large, collaborative projects running in multi-year time frames, Chris works to “cross-train and make sure that everyone knows the general idea of each of the other studies, some of the moving parts, and the basics of what it takes to get a study off the ground.” He acknowledges that transitions can be challenging, but finds that training new people is most effective with good coaching along with shadowing more experienced persons before leading the management of clinical trials.
Chris recently joined the Project Management Community of Practice (PMCoP) Steering Committee because he wants to learn from other project managers and contribute to building a network for project managers working in clinical trials. For the PMCoP community as a whole, he wants “PMCoP to be a resource for other project managers - a way to grow, a way to train, a way to network with other professionals here at Duke to see the tools they have discovered and to learn what has been helpful for them.” More specifically, he would “like to develop more project management training for clinical trial management, where the skills required are unique.” For example, working with human subjects in clinical trials requires knowledge of “informed consent, Institutional Review Board (IRB) rules and submission requirements, writing a protocol, human subjects data management, and working closely with statisticians to analyze the data.” Learning to effectively lead each of those components involves a sizable learning curve that Chris recognizes can be a barrier for new people interested in managing clinical trials projects. By developing more PMCoP training opportunities specifically focused on managing clinical trials, Chris aims to minimize that barrier and encourage more colleagues to pursue clinical trials management career paths.