New Certificate Program Focuses on Improving Research Participation and Engagement

June 3, 2021

Since coming to work at Duke, Lori Reinhart-Mercer, RN, had been looking for a way to build connections across the university and learn more about the bevy of resources Duke offers. As a Recruitment and Outreach Coordinator for the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, the COVID-19 pandemic had also presented a unique challenge to her work.

Lori Reinhart-Mercer
Lori Reinhart-Mercer, RN

“With the uncertainties of the pandemic and its influence on study recruitment, I knew that it was critical to expand upon my knowledge, resources, and tools to be successful,” Reinhart-Mercer said.

When she first heard about the Engagement, Recruitment, and Retention Certificate Program last June, she thought it sounded like a perfect fit. The certificate and skills-building program is designed for Duke clinical research study teams to help staff develop and expand competency in participant engagement, recruitment, and retention.

Managers are invited to nominate staff members to participate in the program, though the elective courses can be attended individually without a nomination when space allows. Lori’s manager, Dr. Samantha Bowen, nominated her for the program.

The program takes place over a six-month period, with participants completing nine courses that cover topics from equity and diversity in clinical research to using social media and marketing to improve study engagement.

Jamie Roberts, Staff Director of the Recruitment Innovation Center, works with clinical research teams that regularly recruit participants and has been dreaming about a program like this for clinical research staff for a while. When she presented the idea to the Duke Office of Clinical Research (DOCR) in early 2020, the leadership team enthusiastically agreed.

“I am just thrilled to see this idea come to life,” Roberts said. “We had 72 nominees for the first cohort. It was needed and people are excited about it.”

Roberts, along with DOCR Director Stephanie Freel and Educational Designer Jessica Cranfill, worked with Dr. Nadine Barrett to incorporate her Just Ask program as the opening session and central theme for the program to instill an appreciation for the importance of diversity in clinical research. The team recruited a host of talented investigators and instructors from across Duke to share their experiences with the program participants.


Leonor Corsino
Dr. Leonor Corsino

Dr. Leonor Corsino, Associate Professor in Medicine and Co-Director of the Duke CTSI Community Engaged Research Initiative (CERI), was approached to develop a session on building trust and partnership in clinical research. Dr. Corsino sees the value in building additional skills within clinical research teams and staff members, to help them learn how to provide the best experience for research participants.

“Building trust and trustworthiness within the team is key to the success of the team and their ability to engage with participants in a transparent and welcoming manner,” said Corsino. “Team members must be seen by research participants as trustworthy before meaningful engagement can happen.”

Brian Southwell
Dr. Brian Southwell

Similarly, Dr. Brian Southwell facilitated the course, “Using Social Marketing Principles to Design Your Engagement Strategy,” for the program. Dr. Southwell is the Senior Director for the Science in the Public Sphere Program at the Center for Communication Science at RTI International, as well as an Adjunct Professor and Duke-RTI Scholar at the Social Science Research Institute at Duke.

“The course offered a compelling opportunity to apply thinking about how to develop media campaigns to encourage health-related behaviors to the specific challenges of recruitment for clinical trials. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with students who are engaged in vital work for science.”

As a result of her engagement in the program, Reinhart-Mercer was asked to participate as a panelist in a Research Professional Network virtual meeting on Diversity in Clinical Research, led by Dr. Nadine Barrett, Assistant Professor in Family Medicine and Community Health. She noted her involvement in that meeting, as well as breakout session activities with her fellow classmates, as some of the most valuable aspects of her time in the program.

“I really enjoyed the creativity that was generated from those groups, as well as the camaraderie,” she said. “They provided an opportunity for professional development and to share what we learned.”

Those who are interested in participating in the program should speak with their managers about a nomination. The next open nomination period is July 14th to August 11th 2021.

Reinhart-Mercer would certainly encourage anyone who’s interested to seek a nomination - “Don’t hesitate, it’s very interesting and fun.”

Learn more about the Engagement, Recruitment, and Retention Certificate Program.