MUSC Graduate Certificate in Clinical Research

by Barry Waldman

If you got vaccinated against COVID-19, you benefited from clinical research. If you have taken an antibiotic, added leafy green vegetables to your diet, or given birth to a baby, you have benefited from clinical research.

Clinical research, conducted with expertise, is responsible for every health and wellness advance in the last century. Done poorly, it misinforms us about our health, producing such catastrophes as the discredited-but-still-repeated theory that vaccinations cause autism. Right here in the Lowcountry, MUSC is helping create the next generation of expert clinical researchers with a graduate certificate in clinical research.

The certificate program provides training to clinical and health care professionals who seek the skills and core competencies for participation in human clinical research without the time commitment of a pursuing a master’s degree. 

How the MUSC Clinical Research Certificate Program Works

Upon completion of the 11-course certificate program, participants are armed with the 52 core competencies identified by the National Institutes of Health for clinical research. Among these are the ability to read and interpret articles in scientific literature, evaluate the quality of evidence, and build an evidence table, says Dr. Daniel Lackland, an MUSC professor of epidemiology and director of the Master of Science in Clinical Research Program (MSCR).

A surgeon and associate professor at MUSC, Lackland entered the certificate program when he realized he needed to do research in order to get promoted. He realized he was not prepared sufficiently when he struggled to apply for a grant and was not considered for funding. After he earned the graduate certificate, he went on for the full master’s degree and subsequently earned grant funding for research from the NIH. That promotion followed.

The Certificate in Clinical Research (CCR) completes half of the full MSCR and  about half of the certificate students at MUSC go on for the full master’s degree, Dr. Lackland says.

The course is open to anyone with a health care background who has or is pursuing a doctorate. The courses can be completed in-person or online, synchronously or asynchronously to accommodate working professionals. Some students show up for every class, sit in the front row and are visibly engaged.

Others log on to the courses on the weekends and do the coursework and assignments then. Most students begin with the fall semester and can complete the coursework in as little as a year. Students with some background in clinical research may be able to start in the spring or summer.

Clinical Research Certificate Program Courses

Courses comprising the program include biostatistics, epidemiology, ethical issues in research, clinical trials, grant writing and regulatory issues.

“This is not the only way to become a great clinical researcher,” said Dr. Lackland. “One can attain these competencies without a masters or a certificate but one has to prove that they have these skills. The certificate is proof. This is a big-C certificate approved by the State Commission on Higher Education.”

One Ph.D. student in the basic sciences took the course because she needed to prove the relevance of her work to research. She told Dr. Lackland during the application process that she was  most confused about describing the “clinical significance” of her basic science research.” After earning the certificate, she knew the jargon that a clinical researcher would use as a complement to her doctorate. 

The deadline for signing up for the summer semester is early April. It’s the beginning of August for the fall semester.

Today’s applicants could be the researchers who discover the next great vaccine or cure.