February 24, 2024, by Mei Kee Lee

Experience Sharing: Summer Internship at Sunway Clinical Research Centre

By Ng Yu Yang, who is currently a Year 3 BSc (Hons) Pharmaceutical and Health Sciences student based in the UK campus to conduct his final year research project.


Where did you do your summer internship? How long was it?

I completed my 3-month summer internship at Sunway Clinical Research Centre (CRC) which is part of the Sunway Healthcare Group and Sunway Medical Centre. Sunway Medical Centre is one of the top private quaternary medical centres in Malaysia, providing high quality healthcare, possessing highly advanced technology and the expertise of many experienced specialists. Sunway CRC coordinates all clinical research going on in Sunway Medical Centre and assists physicians in conducting both Industry Sponsored Research (ISR) and Investigator Initiated Research (IIR) to assess the safety and efficacy of new treatments.


What did it involve?

My job scope as an intern at Sunway CRC was broad and I had both research assistant and quality assurance responsibilities. As a Research Assistant, I was assigned to Ms Azliana who was the research scientist for Sunway CRC. I assisted in collection and statistical analysis of patient data, processing of research proposals and ethics applications, transport of patient biospecimens and investigational products as well as creation of slides and meeting minutes. As a Quality Assurance Coordinator, I was assigned to Ms Wong who was the QA Manager at Sunway CRC. I updated, reviewed, and drafted SOPs, conducted a Customer Satisfaction Survey, assisted in auditing all study documents and staff files, and even helped design new brochures and posters.

Auditing the study documents and study files was particularly challenging and time-consuming due to the hundreds of pages of paperwork required for even a single study. Sunway Clinical Research centre had more than thirty studies concurrently and many more that have been completed and required archiving. To help organize all of the binders and folders in the archive, I helped create an excel sheet listing all of the documents from each study from that also highlighted any missing, redundant, or unsigned documents after auditing the entire archive.

I was also tasked with creating a census of data from allogenic stem cell transplants and robotic surgery in order to find out the overall results from these procedures from across the world and to create benchmarks for Sunway Medical Centre’s procedures. I conducted a miniature literature review where I compiled results from over fifty studies on many different indications. I was also taught critical appraisal techniques by Ms Azliana in order to systematically assess the quality of the paper and the validity of the results.


What did you find interesting throughout this experience?

During the internship, I became intimately aware of the clinical trial process, the parties involved such as sponsors and clinical research organizations as well as the methods and study designs for each phase in clinical trials. Clinical trials have an elevated level of scrutiny and a strict protocol to follow to ensure research patient safety and the validity of clinical trial results. I had also gained an appreciation to the importance of research ethics and good clinical practice. Doctors who are acting as investigators for clinical trials may act more as a researcher rather than as a physician which can create a conflict of interest; where the research becomes more important than the wellbeing and wishes of the patient which is why ethical committees have to be created and review all clinical trial research. These ethical committees must also comprise of at least one non-scientific layperson in order to represent the views of the general public.

A key principle in ethical clinical trials is informed consent, where patients must be fully aware of what the research is comprised of, any risks and potential benefits if any. Consent must not be obtained coercively such as pressuring the patient to sign or offering large sums of money. Research subjects can also retract from the study at any time.


How did the summer internship support your learning and future career development?

This summer internship has been a wonderful opportunity to gain many technical and soft skills. I was given the opportunity to attend an SPSS workshop for free where I learned descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, and sample size calculation using SPSS software at Shah Alam Hospital. I also learned the R programming language on my own to conduct Kaplan-Meier and Cox Regression survival analysis. I also became digitally certified in Good Clinical Practice and Dangerous Goods Transport.

I have also honed my excel skills as I was tasked to summarize the entire database of US clinical trials from 2021 to 2023 and breakdown studies into individual therapeutic areas and indications. Using complex excel functions I managed to greatly reduce the workload by automatically searching for keywords. During this database search I have also learned about the latest pharmaceutical innovations such as oncolytic viral therapy for cancer, gene therapy for genetic diseases and chimeric T cell therapy for leukaemia. I have also broadened my knowledge of obscure medical conditions and novel mechanisms of action for new drugs.

During the audit, I became a very meticulous person and became very attentive to details so that I could spot issues, notice missing documents and any contradicting information. I also had many opportunities to meet patients to practice my communication skills both in English and in Malay. I also developed time management skills and a good work ethic to complete work in a timely manner without being overly stressed.


What is one take home message you obtain from this experience?

What I believe to be the most important for clinical trial research or any kind of research is a lifelong thirst for knowledge and a drive to contribute to society. Working in clinical trials as a study coordinator can be a rewarding experience as you directly assist in the development of new therapies or medical devices and meet many different patients but can be very stressful due to the strictness of each study protocol which may even differ between different studies and the hospital’s own standard of care. This often leads to communication issues between many different parties such as doctors, nurses, and clinical research organizations. Hence, proper communication is also an important skill to learn to avoid protocol deviations.


What is your advice to current or prospective students on signing up for summer internships?

  • Review all of your past experiences and extracurricular activities, what challenges have you faced and how have you solved them.
    • This can help with tailoring your CV to a specific company and also what you can talk about during the interview.
    • Demonstrating soft skills such as time management, leadership, communication with details is key
  • Apply to as many companies as possible.
  • Have a friend or your tutor review your CV.
  • Ask for someone to be your CV reference (such as your ex-boss or tutor)
Posted in Experience SharingInternshipPHS