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The Women Behind The Fight Against COVID-19

Since the world found itself in the grips of a global pandemic, one of such magnitude and scale the word “unprecedented” seemed to punctuate every sentence uttered in conversation, scientists and health professionals have been working tirelessly to find a vaccine. Within that field, women on the frontlines have headed up clinical trials and made bold leaps in the industry, proving that the medical field isn’t one in which women should be relegated to the sidelines, but instead are a driving force for innovation and in-depth research. 

One such woman includes Megan Ford, Executive Director of Clinical Trials at the Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research. Megan and the Institute have been working tirelessly together with the local health district with a shared objective, to identify the best approach for patients with Covid-19. Throughout this time, she’s been conducting clinical trials in mild to moderate patients being managed in the community, as well as moderate to severe patients in wards and severe patients in ICU. We sat down with Megan Ford to hear about her experiences navigating the pandemic and working in a predominantly male medical field. 

How did you get to this point in your career?

Megan Ford: I started my career as a Registered nurse and worked in medical oncology and haematology. Back then, the outlook for someone diagnosed with cancer was pretty grim. I really fell into working in clinical trials when I was working in this area and was fascinated by the science and the benefit that research brought to patients. I was working as a clinical trial coordinator in haematology at Royal North Shore Hospital and was setting up a clinical trial for CSL when my then husband and I were transferred to Melbourne for his job.

One of the Managers at CSL asked me if I would be interested in a role in the industry and when they had one I jumped at it. I then worked for biotech and pharmaceutical companies in various roles as a clinical trial associate and project manager working across many different diseases from developing a clinical trial concept through to registering a treatment. There was a trend in the industry for pharmaceutical and biotech companies to use contract research organisations (CROs) so I went to work in this space for many years. I worked across clinical operations including start up, regulatory, medical writing, data management and post marketing research.

I had been working with the CEO of the Ingham Institute of Applied Medical Research, Darryl Harkness, and Director of Research, Les Bokey on some projects they were running at the Ingham Institute and they mentioned to me they were going to expand their Clinical Trial Support Unit. When this was advertised, I was really excited to not only be considered, but get the opportunity to join the team at the Ingham Institute as I felt it was a way I could utilise my experience in clinical trials. I have been given a lot of great opportunities to learn and expand my knowledge during my career and I am very grateful for this. At the Ingham Institute I am working with so many enthusiastic, intelligent people to be part of world-class research that helps transform the community wellbeing

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What is it like being a woman in your field?

Megan Ford: When I started in the medical field, men were doctors and women were nurses. I don’t think there was the respect there is now for nursing as a profession. I feel very fortunate that I grew up with sisters (my poor dad!) and so I was raised that your gender didn’t matter. My parents stressed the importance of education and working hard. I am not naive though and many women did/do not have the same advantages I did which gave them the confidence to consider themselves equal. I have been the only woman in meetings and on teams where I have had to advocate for equality. I think the older I get the more determined I am to speak up and encourage others to as well.

What improvements do you think could be made?

Megan Ford: We need to be considering how do we make science and medicine more attractive to women? If you have a career break, to start a family or for whatever reason, there are less opportunities open for women in this situation. Are there good mentors and networks available for women to tap into that are open, inclusive, diversity and equitable?

What advice to you have for young women wanting to get into medicine?

Megan Ford: Be the girl who just went for it. If someone gives you an opportunity, take it. As women we often think we need to have all the skills to perform but you don’t and you will learn them along the way if you need to. Find a good mentor who will also help you along the way. I have had several fabulous mentors in my life and career both female and male. So I highly recommend finding people who inspire you and simply ask them to be your mentor.

And if you see something that isn’t right, speak up. Your voice is important and your voice may just encourage others to do the same.

Tell us about the work you have been doing around COVID?

Megan Ford: I had only been in my role for 6 months when COVID hit and it has been one of the most significant changes to clinical trials in my time working in research. At the core of everything we do is to find real solutions for the problems that impact our community and we have definitely been challenged by COVID globally. We were asked to participate in multiple COVID clinical trials to diagnose, treat and collect data and we had to make decisions about what to take and what not to take. The speed in which clinical trials were proposed, initiated and recruited to was like nothing we have previously seen. The team in South Western Sydney have worked collaborative to deliver the research and it is inspiring to see.

One of the biggest things that has changed with COVID is the way we run our clinical trials and the innovative ways we have had to operate to keep people on clinical trials and ensuring they are reviewed and treated. We have adopted technology and managed risks so that we have treatments available to the community in South Western Sydney. My role was to help coordinate this between the Ingham Institute and South Western Sydney Local Health District. COVID has been extremely challenging but it has also shown what we can do when we work together and what goes on behind the scenes in these situations has been eye opening to me and has highlighted how dedicated and amazing the team in South Western Sydney are. I really do work with world class people.

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  • Posted on March 8, 2021