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From today, clinicians involved with the Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY (RECOVERY) trial will be able to take part in the Associate Principal Investigator (PI) Scheme. Under the guidance of an experienced mentor, participants in the scheme develop their skills and understanding of clinical trial research. This leads to a formal qualification that recognises their engagement with research activities. The aim is that this will help to train junior doctors, nurses and allied health professionals to become the PIs of the future.

‘The size of the RECOVERY trial and the significant results it has found so far were ultimately facilitated by front-line clinicians at all levels recruiting thousands of patients across the country. Adding RECOVERY to the Associate PI Scheme gives us an opportunity to formally recognise their contribution to this life-saving research’ says Professor Richard Haynes, Clinical Coordinator for RECOVERY.

Any clinician who expects to be involved with RECOVERY for at least six months from now can sign up to complete the Associate PI Scheme. The scheme is also open to National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) funded studies related to the following areas: Cancer; Ear, Nose and Throat; Gastroenterology; Hepatology; and Trauma and Emergency Care. The ambition is to eventually roll out the Associate PI scheme across all specialty areas.

Clinicians can register for the scheme using the online form on the NIHR website. They are then sent a welcome pack with a checklist of activities to complete under the supervision of a local PI. These activities include study dissemination, recruiting patients, reviewing protocols and participating in research team meetings. Once the checklist has been signed off by their local PI mentor, participants receive an NIHR-endorsed certificate and are then free to register to another study at the same or another site.

Dr Natalie Blencowe, a Clinician Scientist for the Medical Research Council, played an instrumental role in advocating for RECOVERY to join the scheme. During the first wave of COVID-19, she saw first-hand how the engagement and hard work of frontline NHS staff resulted in Bristol recruiting approximately half of eligible patients with COVID-19 to participate in RECOVERY.

‘One of the reasons for this success is that we provided 1:1 training for clinicians to learn how to identify and approach patients, explain the study, and take consent. I realised that it would have been extremely beneficial to have provided some of them with the opportunity to take this further, by learning about trial processes and participating in meetings, thereby immersing them more into the study as a whole’ she says.

Having helped to coordinate previous studies in the Associate PI Scheme, Natalie knew that the programme could bring multiple benefits for RECOVERY. ‘The skills taught in the training scheme will help to boost recruitment rates, allowing the research questions in the trial to be answered more quickly and efficiently. Meanwhile, the trainees benefit in terms of their CVs and receiving high quality research training and exposure 'on the job'. Finally, NHS patients themselves benefit, since embedding research into clinical practice will ensure that clinical care is based on high-quality evidence.’

Clinicians who wish to learn more about how the Associate PI Scheme will operate within the context of RECOVERY can learn more from an introductory video.

The Associate PI Scheme is managed through the NIHR. Associate PI status is endorsed by the NIHR and the following medical Royal Colleges: Royal College of Anaesthetists; Royal College of Emergency Medicine; Royal College of Physicians; Royal College of Radiologists; and the Royal College of Surgeons (England). Further information is available on the NIHR website.