What happens outside Paula Carney’s classroom may be just as important to her students as what takes place inside it. As director of Northwestern’s Master of Science in Regulatory Compliance (MSRC) Program, Carney engages her students in courses that include Essentials of Initiating Clinical Research and Introduction to Biostatistics. But Carney’s work outside the classroom informs her teaching in ways that can be far-reaching—literally stretching across the globe.
A case in point is Carney’s work with the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI). Announced this fall and funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the National Institutes of Health, the five-year, $130 million initiative partners medical and academic institutions in a dozen African countries with more than 20 collaborating institutions in the United States. Northwestern’s partners are in Nigeria, coordinated by the University of Ibadan.
“So much of the clinical research agenda right now is global,” says Carney. “This will give us an opportunity to extend our reach internationally as well as to bring an international flavor to our work here. It will inform the curriculum and help our graduate students improve their competence.”
Under the grant, Carney and researchers from Northwestern will travel to Nigeria to assess the best ways to deliver medical education to their partners across Nigeria. “We need to reach not only the clinical research staff but also the nurses, pharmacists, and community physicians who administer health care,” says Carney. “You can have a well-trained leader, but what about the people who are doing the work?”
Not all the connections will happen face to face. Carney, who earned a PhD in instructional technology and has conducted online classes at the School of Continuing Studies, will be leading a distance learning initiative. “Online learning can be a successful approach for clinical and translational research,” explains Carney. “It speeds up communication and makes what we have in the US more available globally.
Much of Carney’s work is interdisciplinary. She has taught in SCS’s medical informatics program, and she is a research associate professor and associate director at the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, a collaborative research unit that works across Northwestern’s schools and clinical affiliates. Carney sees benefits to crossing borders as well as disciplines. “Cross-cultural fertilization is important, because clinical research occurs in a global environment,” says Carney.
The MEPI grant “shows that we’re leaders in clinical research training,” says Carney. She also believes her work with Northwestern’s Nigerian partners will bring new dimensions to her teaching. “Some of the lessons we learn could add a more authentic international perspective to class work,” says Carney. “We’ll be learning more about how to conduct research internationally in a way that is culturally competent.”