From Corner Store to Clinic

It’s all about customer service

He’s highly educated and very experienced. But it was at Higgins and Main in Winnipeg’s core, working for his dad, that Bram Ramjiawan learned about some of the keys to success as a clinical researcher.

“My dad had a smoke shop in the early ’80’s close to a bus stop at Higgins and Main,” says Ramjiawan, Director of Research for the Asper Clinical Research Institute at St. Boniface Hospital. “Back then, more people used public transport and it was a big junction, so you’d come in, grab a magazine, a bag of chips.”

At the age of 14, with his family newly arrived from British Guiana via Toronto, Ramjiawan helped out by working in the store and walking daily deposits over to the bank. He learned from the example of his father’s persistence, having to start from scratch after settling in Winnipeg. He learned about trust, as his father built a good relationship and a tremendous reputation with the bank. And he learned, above all, about customer service and treating people of all backgrounds with respect. It’s knowledge that has carried him far as a clinical researcher.

Respect for the customer

“I have a great respect for the customer, which is everyone,” says Ramjiawan. “You can’t exist without understanding who are you serving.”

As the head of clinical research, service is very much at the heart of Ramjiawan’s work. It’s people-centred work.

“You can’t exist without understanding who are you serving.”

“Clinical research means research that is directly involved with humans,” he explains. “Research is a continuum. There’s basic science where you discover, and then there’s clinical research where you try to translate those discoveries into patient care, patient treatment, and patient management. That step is very, very crucial. You need, obviously, both ends of the spectrum, but the translational elements are the ones that you will actually see the direct implementation of the research findings.”

A Sisler grad, Ramjiawan was trained at the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba. After graduating, he took a job with the federal government as a health regulator.

Ramjiawan and his team currently oversee more than 300 clinical trials at the Hospital, including 107 that were initiated in 2013. The trials usually look at new medical devices, therapeutics, drugs, vaccines, and, increasingly, how functional foods might play a greater role in human well-being.

One of the keys to successful research, says Ramjiawan, is to be careful not to duplicate the work of others, especially when technology allows for so much sharing and so much access to information.

Snail mail

“You want to build on what others have done,” he explains. The process starts with a crucial “literature review…so you can establish what has already been done and figure out how to take it to the next level.”

Communications technology makes the process easier, and faster.

“We can get to our desks and get something that just came out in the British Medical Journal this morning,” says Ramjiawan. “In the olden days, I remember you would actually write a letter to the principal investigator – having heard of the article – and you would put a stamp in the envelope so they could actually send you a reprint by mail. So things have changed tremendously. It allows us faster processing time, quicker dissemination, and we can have bigger impact more quickly.”

Science and ethics

But with increased speed, it is still critical that clinical research remains careful, ethical, and meaningful.

“Clinical research is extremely regulated. It’s actually as regulated as the aircraft industry, and for good reasons,” explains Ramjiawan. “You have to ensure that things are done properly, that they’re safe and they’re actually effective before you integrate into proper care. We have to ensure that every study that we do is done appropriately and that means that it’s scientifically sound and that it’s ethically correct.”

Ethics and integrity are of the utmost importance to Ramjiawan. Among a number of significant appointments and involvements, he is a reviewer for the European Union Commission on Health Science and Ethics, and Co-chair of the St-Boniface Hospital Research Ethics Committee.

So when work is novel, scientifically sound, and ethically rigorous, the next challenge is to bring important discoveries to market. “For me, ‘to market’ means real life,” he says. “How do we integrate what we know into clinical care.”

To that end, says Ramjiawan, partnerships with industry, other hospitals, and governments are key.

“Companies are the guys with the deep pockets and they exist for profit. Governments are there to ensure that Canadians are safe. Hospitals are there to utilize the best methodologies for patients,” he says. “It’s a balance that is complex.”

To learn more about Dr. Ramjiawan’s research visit www.sbrc.ca/ramjiawan

Dr. Bram Ramjiawan
Director of Research for the Asper Clinical Research Institute
Director of Research Innovation and Regulatory Affairs, St. Boniface Hospital
Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology & Therapeutics, University of Manitoba

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