On the Road: Interviewers at CPIC

The collection of reliable data is at the heart of all the research produced at CPIC. And while data can come from many sources, much of it ultimately derives from direct interviews and collection of biological specimens from individual study participants. This is where CPIC’s interviewers and interviewer/phlebotomists come into play. Supporting many CPIC studies, including the Northern California Family Registry for Breast Cancer (FRBC), the California Teachers Study (CTS) and the LEGACY Girls Study, this group of dedicated staff recruits study participants, conducts personal interviews, and collects blood and other biological samples to provide these studies with the data foundation they need in order to yield important results.

Karyn Taylor has been with CPIC as an interviewer/phlebotomists working on CTS for almost a year. With a background in science, she was uncertain exactly what the job was going to be like, but already she is enamored of the work. “I took this job because of the connection with people. The teachers I talk to are really incredible; it’s what feeds me. Some of the women in the studies are in their 80s and 90s, and they really need people to talk to. I fill that role for a little while at least.”

It’s this type of perspective and caring attitude that the managers of these studies are looking for. Enid Satariano is the Study Manager for both the FRBC and LEGACY studies. “What we look for in our interviewer/phlebotomists is ease and comfort on the phone as well as face to face in the homes of study participants, the ability to promote the study in a non-aggressive manner, and people who are bright and energetic, able to work independently and of course have phlebotomy experience and skills,” Enid said. “It’s not an easy position to fill nor an easy job to do.”

Not all interviewers come to the job for the same reasons. While recruiting new participants for the LEGACY study is a key part of the work for new hire Shanika Anderson, what she finds most rewarding is gaining the trust of the girls who are study subjects once she is in their homes. “These are young girls, and someone coming into their homes to talk with them and draw their blood can be scary. Overcoming that fear through building trust is incredibly satisfying.”

As Study Manager for the CTS study, Christine Duffy understands that need well. “One thing I always look at closely when I’m seeking potential CPIC interviewer/phlebotomists is the life experiences they bring with them. The job really requires somebody who understands and cares about people. It takes a special kind of person to do this work.”

One of those special people is Interviewer/Phlebotomist Kathy Johnson with the CTS. “I’m a breast cancer survivor myself,” she said, “and that can make a big difference when I’m talking to the women in the study; they know I understand their perspective.”

On top of all these challenges, the work also can involve considerable time behind the wheel. The territory covered by these studies runs from Fresno in the south to the Oregon border up north and that can mean long trips, overnight stays and logistical challenges.

Part salesperson, part interviewer, part hand-holder, part social worker and part long-distance driver, the people attracted to the job are remarkable. Enid explains, “They are the front line, ground zero, recruiting participants for our studies. If we can’t do that, we can’t do the research we do. If the data we collect isn’t solid, then it’s ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ That’s not acceptable at CPIC. These folks are incredibly important to the success of these studies, and our work to prevent cancer, and we focus on making sure they know it.”