Uncovering the emotional aspects of working on a clinical trial: A qualitative study of the experiences and views of staff involved in a type 1 diabetes trial

Julia Lawton*, Jackie Kirkham, David White, David Rankin, Cindy Cooper, Simon Heller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: The perspectives and experiences of trial staff are increasingly being investigated as these can be used to improve recruitment, adherence to trial protocols and support given to future staff. We interviewed staff working on a type 1 diabetes trial in order to aid interpretation of trial findings, inform recommendations for the rollout of the treatments investigated and provide recommendations for the conduct of future trials. However, our interviews uncovered aspects of trial work erstwhile unrecognised or underreported in the trials literature, and it is these which form the focus of this paper.

Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with (n = 18) staff, recruited from seven centres, who were involved in recruitment and trial delivery. Data were analysed thematically.

Results: Alongside logistical and practical issues which made trial work challenging, staff often talked spontaneously and at length about how trial work had affected them emotionally. Staff not only described the emotional stresses arising from having to meet recruitment targets and from balancing research roles with clinical responsibilities, they also discussed having to emotionally manage patients and their colleagues. The emotional aspects of trial work particularly came to the fore when staff notified patients about their treatment allocation. On such occasions, staff described having to employ emotional strategies to pre-empt and manage potential patient disappointment and anger. Staff also described having to manage their own emotions when patients withdrew from the trial or were not randomised to the treatment arm which, in their clinical judgment, would have been in their best interests. To help address the emotional challenges they encountered, staff highlighted a need for more practical, emotional and specialist psychological support.

Conclusions: More attention should be paid to the emotional aspects of trial work to help ensure trial staff are adequately supported. Such support could comprise: increased training for staff to improve their own and patients' understandings of randomization, role-play to develop techniques to manage patient anger and disappointment, sharing of good practice, formalised team support with psychological input and access to specialist psychological support to troubleshoot complex emotional and ethical issues.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3 (2015)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Qualitative research
  • Trial staff
  • Emotional labour
  • Emotion work
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Randomised controlled trial
  • CARE


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