It’s been called the "Great Resignation" and a "turnover tsunami" – one in four employees in the U.S. has left their job this year. Although SWOG benefits from the deep dedication of its staff, we’re not immune to the force of that tsunami. Our protocol department has been hit particularly hard, as have the protocol departments of other NCTN groups.

The reasons for this turnover are complex, and based on findings from exit interviews and a compensation survey, we have made several changes, including increasing some salaries to be more competitive with the for-profit market.

We have also changed several job titles to more accurately reflect the work done by staff in those positions. As the complexity of studies has grown over recent years, the nature of the protocol coordinator’s role has evolved to be largely one of project management. The job descriptions in the department have been regularly updated to reflect the evolving nature of these positions, but the titles had not been updated, and titles matter (ask any associate professor). So we’ve made changes you should be aware of:

  • Our entry level protocol coordinator 1s are … protocol coordinators
  • Our protocol coordinator 2s are now protocol project managers (or just protocol managers, for short)
  • Our lead protocol coordinators are now senior protocol project managers
  • Our clinical trial project managers are now clinical trial program managers

Based in part on the interviews we’ve done, we expect these changes will aid in recruiting and retaining good people. We have made a number of recent hires in the protocol department, but openings remain, including two of our three slots for clinical trial program managers. In the interim, Crystal Miwa is splitting overall program management responsibilities with Dana Sparks, director of operations and protocols. I’m incredibly grateful to all of our protocol department staff, both veterans and newcomers, for their commitment and hard work in continuing the development of our trials in a time of great flux.

To help meet the unmet need, after careful vetting, we’ve contracted with two firms that specialize in protocol development services, and we’re now onboarding these firms. Initially, they will give us added flexibility to meet critical needs, but down the line they will also help allow us to provide protocol development services to select research support committees and to more quickly take advantage of outstanding opportunities as they arise. In addition, they’ll backstop rapid growth of a SWOG CTP portfolio of trials.

We will let committee chairs know when a study is being assigned to a contractor for protocol development, and we’ll hold a kickoff call to bring the study team and that contractor together. The first such kickoff call – on a ComboMATCH protocol – was held this week. Committee or study chairs who are working with contractors and who have questions or concerns about the process are encouraged to reach out to directly to Nathan Eriksen, SWOG chief of administration.

I also want to touch on another staffing challenge, but one not involving direct SWOG hires. We know many of our sites have been facing major turnover among clinical research associates (CRAs). While SWOG cannot be involved in the hiring of those new CRAs, we are taking steps, largely through the activity of our Statistics and Data Management Center, to help ensure that newly hired CRAs can be brought on board to be fully productive contributors as quickly as possible.

To that end, we are working to beef up our virtual training and virtual mentoring offerings for CRAs and are revamping our CRA Workbench to make it easier to use. We’re also taking more subtle steps, such as revising our institutional performance metrics to align with NCI’s system reports, so CRAs won’t face the frustration of having to use multiple systems.

Our CRAs make valuable contributions to SWOG’s scientific mission, and as such we’re also doing our best to ensure key members can attend our group meetings, in part by providing travel support for them. In 2022, The Hope Foundation will fund group meeting travel for 40 CRAs. Our oncology research professionals (ORP) committee also plays a key role. During the fall 2021 meeting, they held an open forum that included a panel of sites that are successfully navigating our challenging times to contribute to NCORP and NCTN studies.

SWOG has faced significant challenges over the past year and a half. But, so many times in the past, we faced adversity and banded together to carry on with our vital mission. Given the number of times we’ve proven our resilience, I’m confident we’ll ride out the turnover tsunami as well.

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