Interested in a Career with Oncology Clinical Research?

Stephanie Van Bebber is a certified clinical research professional. She serves as the Senior Director of the Clinical Trials Office for Inova Schar Cancer Institute.

We don’t need to scroll very far to see that healthcare is facing major challenges, especially in our human resources.  We need more people to train and commit to careers in healthcare, not just to be doctors and nurses but to provide support across the entire health ecosystem. One area of critical need is in clinical research.

Why is clinical research important?

Every marketed drug provided in our oncology clinics today has gone through the rigorous process of a clinical trial before it can be used. It is the work of clinical researchers, largely at sites like Inova, that effectively brings new options to our patients in the future. This years-long work takes a team of people, many of whom will have landed in their research career by chance. I’d like to improve those chances to be introduced to clinical research opportunities and careers, but it isn’t enough to simply introduce people to this career. We also need ongoing training to maintain their confidence and to develop future opportunities to keep them engaged. 

The Inova Schar Clinical Research Internship

Launched in 2021, this summer internship offers an opportunity for high school, college or early-career professionals to learn what clinical research at a site is all about. Interns are introduced to the range of positions within a research team and attend an intensive week-long course in clinical research implementation. Interns receive research-specific training that provides background knowledge required for any position in this field and attend a weekly education session specifically on cancer.

Throughout the internship, participants work with a mentor on a research project and are given an opportunity to present their work at the end of the program. The program’s goals are:

  1. To provide an opportunity to those interested in pursuing careers in healthcare
  2. To introduce clinical research to a wider community who may have a limited view of what a career in healthcare looks like

Implementation of a clinical research ladder at Inova

Over the years, as I’ve remained in this field, I’ve seen many people leave it. Although it is generally accepted that this is a higher turnover career, in part because it is often seen as a steppingstone to medical, nursing or similar postgraduate health studies, it is also due to a lack of opportunity to grow.  This is a career that draws very talented and smart people who don’t want to stay stuck in an entry-level position, but very few sites have a robust structure that facilitates remaining in research and growing a career.

Inova recently committed to changing this for our research team members. In the last year, we have implemented a tiered advancement program that mirrors a program available system-wide for our nurses. This new program called, the Research Initiative for Staff Enrichment or RISE, offers three tiers for each specific research role at Inova. Team members are hired into the first tier and advance by working through competencies that develop their skills toward experienced, independent and lead researchers. These competencies emerge directly from the recommendations of the Association for Clinical Research Professionals, which is one of the leading professional associations guiding our field. 

With the support of our leaders, our ability to maintain a stable workforce in research by offering opportunity has improved. We hope that the outcome will be to keep our team members working in this field at Inova for longer. That stability is critical to our ability to implement research over the long term and bring our patients opportunities to participate.

Inclusivity and awareness

When I started at Inova almost a decade ago, very few people even knew that Inova had any clinical research available. As we planned what would become Inova Schar Cancer Institute, I had the privilege of talking about clinical research with my Inova colleagues as well as patient advocates in the community. The most important reason to do this was to raise awareness and remove uncertainty about clinical trials, but it had the added impact of helping the research team gain acceptance as part of the broader healthcare enterprise at Inova. Research went from being invisible to being invited. Gaining a seat at the table signals that others see and hear us and that this career, and our role, is important.

Now every team member who is hired at Inova Schar learns that the institute is a place where research matters and happens. We teach our team to talk about it and to ask questions. This may matter someday for them, their friends or family as much as it matters today for the patients who enter our care. Volunteering for a clinical trial is important. While it may not be the right or available option for everyone, we need to make more people aware of research – not only for the studies we have today but for the future of cancer care.

Want to know more?

If you or someone you know wants more information about a career in clinical research, is interested in the internship or wants to seek a position with us, please reach out directly to me at

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