Clinical trials in the real world: One practitioner’s perspective

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Ellen Ratcliff, DVM
by Ellen Ratcliff, DVM

Veterinarian pals, listen, I’ve been there. For the better part of two decades, I was a mixed animal practitioner working 80 hour weeks, on call 50% of my life, almost never (literally never) getting a day off. I was stressed out, overstretched, weary, and just trying to keep my head above water. At the same time I was also bored, fighting stagnancy, and wondering if this was my life from there on out. 

Enter a close veterinary friend who was working in-industry and trying to get me to run clinical studies in my practice. In spite of not feeling like I could add a single new thing to my to do list, and admittedly at least partly due to my inability to say no (sound familiar?), I consented to try it (figuring when my head popped off at least I would get some rest in the hospital). 

That decision changed my practice life for the better, and just happened to also lead me in a new career direction I would have never even otherwise known about. While I am not suggesting everyone pursue a new career, I definitely think practicing veterinarians should consider some of the intangible reasons why participating in clinical trials just might be a good move. Yes, even you (especially you!) general practitioners. 

1. Remember you’re a scientist! 

It can sometimes feel like the day-to-day grind of veterinary medicine is so far removed from your scientist side that you can’t even see it from there with binoculars. Yeah, we have microscopes and fecal samples and ELISA tests. But DOING science can seem like something from our college days. I started being an investigator in research, y’all – something I previously thought was only for academics. I can’t tell you how nice it was to be recognized as a scientist again. Animal health companies need your scientist brain and it makes a gal feel sharp to get to use it.

2. Be a part of something bigger than yourself.

I like being a member of a club or a group of people trying to do something I couldn’t do alone. This is probably why I’m also a veterinarian in the Army Reserve and why we all felt that inexplicable camaraderie in vet school. But in practice life, the stress of staff and clients can really be barriers to that feeling. When you start doing clinical studies in your practice, you become a small part of the mission of the company doing that research. You meet new people working towards that goal and you become an integral part of the team. 

3. Learn a new skill set and a new language.

Are you a whiz at talking about anal glands, atopy, and otitis while telling a technician what fluid rate to set the DKA dog on and asking the receptionist to tell the rat poison dog’s owner to come pick it up, all with one hand tied behind your back? You might be ready to learn a new competency in veterinary medicine. Doing something unfamiliar and stimulating that requires a cobwebby part of your brain feels like a breath of fresh air. The change in scenery on your appointment schedule can really reinvigorate the practice pro. New skills, novel processes, innovative medical care, unfamiliar ways of thinking about a problem you may or may not have even known existed? Fun! 

4. Gain a whole new appreciation for how approved drugs get onto your clinic shelves! 

Spoiler alert – it’s a wayyyy lengthier and more involved process than most of us have any concept about. Veterinary medicine has so few approved drugs compared to human medicine. It can only benefit our profession to have pharmacy shelves with more approved drugs that are extensively studied, found to be effective, but also safe. This just isn’t possible without practicing veterinarians participating in this process. 

Having an inside glance into Good Clinical Practice (GCP) studies and understanding how high the data quality must be and how our personal integrity and attention to detail as the investigator plays into that – pretty nifty. Also pretty cool is getting to use novel therapeutics before they even make it to the shelves. Very cutting edge, right?

5. Novel revenue stream (ok, admittedly this one is tangible).

Doing clinical research in your clinic just might give you the chance to see fewer patients in an hour while making the same income. Or add a few more patients to your schedule and increase your income. That was certainly the case for me. It ended up being an unexpectedly lucrative venture for me as a clinical investigator and the work was interesting, diverse, engaging in a way that made it feel like I had stumbled upon a secret in veterinary medicine. 

It is a fruitful enough endeavor that many practices hire a veterinarian and support staff just to run clinical studies in their practices. Sometimes trial sponsors even help fund this. It can be a great way to grow a practice in a time when vets are losing constant inflow of revenue from online pharmacies and pandemics. 

This is my legit real world experience doing clinical studies as a busy general practitioner. I’d love to find out if any of you have similar experiences or wildly different involvement in this space. So let’s hear it, veterinary colleagues, anyone ready to hear how to dip their tired feet into this pool? Reach out via email or learn more – I love to talk clinical trials.

Dr. Ellen Ratcliff, DVM, brings 17 years of mixed animal practice experience to Loyal as the Director of Clinical Development. She’s a Veterinary Corps Officer in the United States Army Reserve with a wealth of experience in public health and Military Working Dog care. Ellen previously managed clinical development at KindredBio, an animal pharmaceutical company. Ellen completed her DVM at the University of Missouri. She lives at home with her 3 beloved cats and her dog, Sormeh.
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