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Kaitlyn Ulmer

SFU Student Undergraduate
Health Sciences
Co-operative Education

Experience Faculty
Experience Details
Application and Interview Tips
  • Highlight any clinical research you've done on your application, but don't stress if you don't have that experience - the Colorectal Surgery Group also likes to give the opportunity to those who have never done clinical research.
  • Let your personality shine through in the interview - the interviewers are looking for a personable and enthusiastic addition to the team.
  • Remember to breathe! The interview process can be intimidating but remaining calm and taking the time to think through your answers is key to a successful interview.
Introduction + Preparation
Previous Experience

My first Co-op experience was with Fraser health supporting the COVID-19 Immunization Centres as a Clerk, which allowed me to gain experience working in a fast-paced, team environment with other health care professionals to help patients efficiently and effectively. I've also volunteered with Fraser Health at Langley Memorial Hospital, which helped me gain experience interacting with and empathizing with patients experiencing medical hardships. My epidemiology and cancer courses have also given me a baseline understanding of colorectal cancer and research methodologies that have helped me further engage with my work.

During my Experience
Day to Day

I am currently halfway through my 12-month contract working at the Colorectal Surgery Group at St. Paul's Hospital, and each day looks very different as I have various duties and responsibilities. The most consistent part of my job is emailing the five colorectal surgeons and other specialists at St. Paul's Hospital, along with our study contacts and patients that are taking part in our studies. My other responsibilities include looking through patient records, consenting patients for studies, and entering patient information into various databases for studies and QA projects.

Research Coordination

Most of my job revolves around coordinating various research studies in which our group is involved. Each research coordinator is in charge of different studies, each with its own tasks. When our group joins a study, we must submit an application to the UBC Research Ethics Board for approval. This can be a very lengthy process depending on the risk level of a study and involves a lot of communication with the study sponsor. Once a study is approved and can start, the research coordinator in charge of the study is responsible for screening potential patients and contacting them to consent to the study. Each study requires different information, but no matter what, it's often the research coordinator's job to enter the data into the relevant study database. Select studies also require further follow-up with patients via email or phone. For some studies, the research coordinators also help with data analysis and writing the manuscript, which is a great opportunity to be published!

MDC Coordination

My biggest responsibility at the moment is more related to direct patient care than research, and that is coordinating the St. Paul's rectal cancer Multidisciplinary Conference (MDC). Every Friday, we host an MDC where the colorectal surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, oncologists, and external doctors come together to review patients' investigations and discuss their care plans. My responsibility is to organize when and how each patient is presented. Doctors will reach out to me with a patient they'd like to present, and I keep track of each patient through a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that records the patient's information, what investigations need to be reviewed, and what the pre-conference plan is. I send the finalized patient list to all attendees each week so the specialists have enough time to review each case. 

Learning and Adaptation

One of the main lessons I've learned was how to manage my time to juggle all of my projects and responsibilities effectively. I am in charge of multiple studies, along with coordinating MDC, managing existing ethics applications and research finances, and training new research coordinators. Therefore good organization and time management are crucial to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

I've also gained a greater appreciation for the unseen work that goes into health research. When you think of a research study, you might think of participants answering questionnaires or a statistician analyzing the data, but there's so much more that is involved that I never thought about until I was part of the process. Submitting ethics applications alone can be incredibly time-consuming and involve a lot of communication between you and your study contact. There are also contracts to be drawn up, research budgets to be negotiated, and departmental approvals required before you can officially start enrolling participants in a study.


Accomplishments and Challenges

My proudest accomplishment has been training the new research coordinators. It was only a few months ago that I was the one being trained. Now I have learned so much that I can teach other people how to use our databases, recruit patients, and manage studies, and I am the one they come to with any questions. It's rewarding to look back and see how far I've come and to look at our new coordinators and see how far they've come, even in their first couple of months, because of what I've taught them. 

Time management was an issue at the start of my second term. As I became an intermediate coordinator, I took on so many responsibilities at once, all of which seemed equally as important and urgent. After a couple of weeks, I left tasks on the back burner and forgot about them I've now developed a system where at the beginning of each week, I look at the tasks that I've ignored and intentionally schedule a block of time during the week to work on them. I plan to use this strategy as I move into my senior term as a research coordinator. 

Reflection & Tips
Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

I love that I can see how my work impacts patients' care. I am often introduced to a patient through our MDC rounds when they are first diagnosed, and I might get to enrol them in one of our studies where we follow them through their treatment as they test a new patient resource or treatment method. Seeing a patient benefit from their participation in a study is always rewarding.