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Charles Vicary is a Trial Manager in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences. Here Charles tells us about his career to date, what a typical week looks like in his role and offers advice to anyone interested in a career in clinical trial management.

Number of years in clinical trial management


How did you get here?

I really fell into trial management. I used to work for social services but found working on the front lines demoralising (this was during the depths of austerity). I wanted a job where I could help people and that there was sufficient funding to do the absolute best I could for people, and I had some fairly basic IT skills, experience with older adults and a willingness to learn. A job as a Clinical Trial Administrative Coordinator came up and I thought it sounded interesting, so I applied. What followed was three extremely busy but incredibly satisfying years working at Oxford Trauma on trauma related clinical trials, notably the WHiTE trials of ways to repair hip fractures. The learning curve was steep, but I have never worked in an environment which trained me so well and so quickly.

I wanted to stay with Oxford Trauma, but there was no space to progress upwards, so I started looking elsewhere and found the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences Trainee Trial manager scheme. This was a programme to train trial managers, and I was extremely fortunate to spend time across multiple trials and departments for a year and a half, learning about how to run trials and supporting trials. At the end of my trainee scheme, I applied to work as a fully-fledged Trial Manager on the ADVANCE trial.

I started on the ADVANCE trial (a device trial for a rapid test for urinary tract infections in GP practices) in March 2020. I had 3 weeks of working on my trial before COVID hit and our unit was redirected to work on the PRINCIPLE trial, an urgent public health study looking at existing treatments for COVID-19. As a group we set up nearly 900 sites in a month, including GP practices, ambulance services and other primary care sites. It was a busy time. I also had the pleasure of working on the PANORAMIC trial later on, testing new treatments for COVID-19. We recruited 25,000 participants for this trial, which I believe is a world record for this style of trial. 

The delightful thing about working for the Primary Care Clinical Trials unit is that you’re never working on the same thing twice. I’ve worked on cTIMPS (drug studies) to reduce heart attacks in patients with chronic kidney disease and trials of therapy for sleep (the HABIT trial). I’ve worked on small trials (my current study RESTED only needs 250 participants) and large trials (PANORAMIC has north of 25,000 participants). I’ve worked on innovatively designed studies like the WHiTE trials and the WHiTE Cohort, where patients not eligible for the trial were asked if they would like to be entered into the cohort study.

What are you working on just now?

The RESTED trial has just opened to recruitment! It’s a trial testing whether Sleep Restriction Therapy (a treatment for Insomnia – look out for the HABIT trial being published in the Lancet in the near future) can help reduce depression in patients who have insomnia and depression. It’s a mechanistic trial so we also want to know how it works and have measures to test this.

What do you do in a typical day/week?

I hate that I’m about to use this phrase. It seems so clichéd, but it’s true: there really is no such thing as a typical week. It’s a fast-paced environment with an enormous number of moving parts. I could be consenting a patient into a study, designing a data collection tool, writing a report to our funders, negotiating with external contractors – the list goes on. What I’m currently doing is setting up sites (preparing documents for them, delivering training to them, troubleshooting etc.) and checking to make sure that we have everything sorted for when we get our first patient (testing systems, writing instructions for those to deliver the baseline assessment, liaising with GP practices). As a sideline, I’m also rewriting a department training on how to manage external vendors.

What education/qualifications do you have?

I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology, but I’d encourage anyone with some basic IT skills and a science background (even just an interest is helpful) to consider trial management, as time management and organisation skills have been far more important to my job than my degree ever has been.

What skills or attributes are most valuable in your role?

Time management, organisation skills, keeping a cool head when things metaphorically or literally catch fire (the latter happens very rarely), the rigour to work up a plan and the flexibility to adapt and throw that plan away when something very unexpected happens.