MPH Student April Morrissett Interns with PCORI

Published: January 24th, 2015

Category: Student News

April Morrissett High ResBSCH student April Morrissett is completing her MPH internship with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), which is a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. PCORI is tasked with improving the quality and relevance of evidence available for patients, caregivers, and other stakeholders to make informed health decisions by awarding funds for comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER).

PCORI is unique in the manner that research proposals are reviewed and funded. Reviewers not only include scientists, clinicians, and experts in relevant fields, but also include other stakeholders like patients, caregivers, and payors. Review criteria emphasize patient impact, centeredness, and engagement on par with technical merit and the study’s potential to improve health outcomes. This review process considers multiple perspectives for a research proposal and ensures that patients and other stakeholders have a valued voice in the process.

The organization is fairly new, established in 2010, and has the feel of a start-up. Innovation is present throughout the organization; people are constantly exchanging new ideas. It’s an exciting time to witness PCORI’s growth!

April’s internship is focused on tasks related to PCORI’s unique merit review process. Under the umbrella of CER, PCORI releases a variety of funding announcements (PFAs) that call for research related to high-priority topics. She is working with the merit review team on the Large Pragmatic Studies (LPS) to Evaluate Patient-Centered Outcomes funding announcement. The LPS funding announcement calls for pragmatic clinical trials or large-scale observation that compare two or more prevention, diagnostic, treatment or management options; improve approaches to managing care at a healthcare system-level; or eliminate health or healthcare disparities. The merit review team screens applications and reviewer critiques throughout the process to ensure that they respond appropriately to relevant ethical standards, methodological rigor, and the specific PFA criteria. Given PCORI’s distinct merit review approach, she has been learning about the evolving processes from each participant’s perspective and how the merit review team aligns those efforts within a cycle.

Currently the Fall 2014 applications for the LPS funding announcement are in the final stages of review and will be discussed during an in-person meeting of the merit reviewers in early February. She is assisting the Merit Review Officer (MRO) leading the LPS funding announcement with preparation of materials for the meeting by reading  applications and organizing critique information. This has broadened my understanding of the PFA process and provided insight into MRO approaches to reviewer engagement.

Meanwhile, the LPS Winter 2015 cycle applications are coming down the pipe. In addition to preparing for the Fall 2014 in-person meeting, she is preparing for incoming applications by reading and organizing data from the submitted Letters of Intent. In her short time there, she has been able to capture how the merit review process works at multiple stages within the cycle. It’s fast-paced and evolving work!

Another aspect of her work at PCORI is helping the team with the ongoing upgrade to PCORI’s information systems by integrating a new merit reviewer portal (MRP) into the current system. She has assisted with user acceptability testing and streamlining the new-user training materials for their reviewers. This experience has supplemented her previous work in IT, which was business-facing, by preparing for the launch of a new customer-facing product.

Beyond her work with the merit review team, she has been learning the organization’s overarching internal processes by attending a variety of meetings and absorbing the company culture through ad hoc conversations at the coffee machine (the frothed hot chocolate is amazing). The various roles and tasks she performs at PCORI have expanded her skill set from an academic understanding to a real-world setting. While she has kept busy at PCORI, she also has been able to catch up with friends in the area and explore the wealth of museums and activities available in D.C.

When asked what she most enjoys about her internship, April said this:

“I really enjoy being privy to the applications for the LPS funding announcements. I have been impressed by the innovation displayed by researchers and their patient/stakeholder partners to propose a comparative clinical trial in a pragmatic and methodologically sound way which also emphasizes patient engagement. The research is cutting-edge and may have a significant impact on future clinical practices—and I am seeing those ideas at the onset, that’s huge!”

After graduation April hopes to continue working for a non-profit and/or non-governmental organization (NGO) committed to improving public health. PCORI is a phenomenal starting point to launch her career. This PCORI internship has laid a foundation of experience for her in public health research and funding.

We are excited to see where it takes her!