Role of the VERITAS Project Ambassador
version: 5 Feb 2020
This document is a formal detailed job description of the duties of the Ambassadors. Briefer and more readable overviews can be found elsewhere.
The Ambassador is the local representative for the VERITAS cohort study for a particular study site.
This is a critical role which includes communicating, organizing, cheerleading, and figuring out how to adapt project plans to the local situation.
The success of the project and the integrity of the study cohorts in the long term will depend on the performance of Ambassadors.
More about the study can be found below and at https://veritascohort.coehar.org/.
Ambassadors should have the following skills:
- Ability to communicate well in English. This includes fluency sufficient for email communication and reading other project documents. In addition, adequate oral communication in English is needed.
- Ability to communicate at a level to form relationships in the local language(s). The Ambassador will need to create connections with the stakeholders. This will include local language communication via email, telephone, and face-to-face communication.
- Ability to manage social media. This will include creating the local social media identity, and possibly translating project information into the local language.
- Ability to manage details. This includes keeping track of dozens of small tasks, proactively managing workflow and being able to respond to events or minor crises, and managing a small budget.
- A good understanding/knowledge of vaping and vaping products. This probably means being a dedicated vaper, though there are some people with sufficient expertise who do not vape.
- Strong interpersonal skills. In particular, the interaction with study subjects will include creating a sense of personal connection and building team spirit.
The Ambassadors will be involved in all activities that require local action or local knowledge at their project study site. For some matters this will mean being in charge, and for others it will mean assisting the central project office. Details of the key tasks appear below. Minor unforeseen tasks that require local actions or knowledge may be added on an ad hoc basis.
The Ambassadors will stay in frequent communication with the project office. The point of contact and preferred method of communication between the Ambassador at the central project office will be made clear to the Ambassador on an ongoing basis. This may vary across tasks and over time. Part of the communication will be an ongoing discussion among the Ambassadors and the project lead to help train and guide the Ambassadors, share ideas, etc. (I.e., it is not expected that Ambassador recruits will understand how to do all this from the start. It will be a learning process.)
The following general knowledge of the project is needed to understand the Ambassador role: The VERITAS (Vaping effects: real-world international surveillance) cohort study is an international study that will follow, for at least 6 years, an expected 800 participants from as many as 20 different international sites. The study focuses on people who vape regularly and who have smoked very little or none, comparing them to matched controls who have neither smoked nor vaped. The objective is to compare specific health indicators (including clinical measures such as, analysis of lung function by high-resolution CT scans, as well as self-reported health outcomes) between the two groups. Data collection will consist (approximately) of annual clinical visits and quarterly online surveys. In previous studies of vapors who have never smoked, no noticeable changes in lung function have been found, including airway inflammation and other important measures. Unfortunately, these studies have been small, and did not follow subjects over time, so it was not possible to assess changes compared to the initial state of health.
1. The Ambassador will be the primary link between study subjects and the clinics and clinicians who collect the biometric data, and between the clinic and the central project office.
-The Ambassador will be involved in the initial recruitment of and contracting with the local clinic. The central project office will be primarily in charge of this, but the Ambassador might need to do some local “on the ground” work to research potential participants, examine local facilities, make personal contact, and such. The Ambassador will at least make contact to assure the clinic that they have a local contact to work with. Should it become necessary to change clinics during the course of the study, the Ambassador will repeat this role.
-The Ambassador has primary responsibility for making sure each local subject completes their scheduled clinical visits (annual, with an additional one at six months). This is their most important mission-critical job as the project moves forward.
-The Ambassador will serve as the proactive “appointment secretary” for clinic visits. This includes the initial screening visit. S/he will: remind the clinicians (or their representatives) and study subjects that upcoming appointments will be scheduled soon; instruct the subjects on how to get on the clinic’s calendar (assuming the clinic prefers to schedule that way) and offer to do it for the subject if that is preferred, or directly coordinate and schedule the visit should the clinic lack a good system for doing that; and remind the subjects when their appointment time approaches. The mechanical aspects of this can be delegated to a staff person if the Ambassador has such assistance, but the Ambassador should still make direct contacts with each subject and the clinic to remind them that they have a local point of contact who does more than just making appointments (who could, e.g., help them deal with any problem with the clinic) and who they should feel comfortable communicating with.
-Following each clinical visit, the Ambassador will confirm that the data has been properly submitted to the online database, and follow-up with the clinic as necessary if this did not happen.
2. The Ambassador will maintain active personal contact with the participants for purposes of organization, encouraging enthusiasm for the project, and retaining cohort members. Some of these tasks are aimed primarily at concrete tasks, but all are about maintaining a personal touch that ensures ongoing contact, a friendly relationship between subjects and the project, and giving the subjects a sense of loyalty pride about participating. All contacts should be done with that in mind. Suggested talking points will be provided as they are developed.
-The Ambassador will make contact with every potential subject shortly after they are identified as being eligible for screening, via phone, email, or whatever means works. The Ambassador will ascertain what method of contact a particular subject prefers and endeavor to use that in the future (using other methods should that method fail).
-The Ambassador will attempt to arrange to meet face-to-face with each local study subject at least once, ideally before the baseline clinical visit. Should the subject prefer to not do this, the Ambassador should try to arrange a phone call that is long enough to establish a human touch. The Ambassador will suggest follow-up face-to-face meeting to each subject at least once a year, but will not push for these should the subject not be interested.
-The Ambassadors will help the central project office administer a survey to each subject approximately quarterly. Notifications and reminders will be delivered personally (via the subject’s preferred communication medium). The Ambassador’s role here is giving a personalized feel and human touch to the data collection process.
-Should a subject start to be lost to follow-up (e.g., does not complete a survey), the Ambassador is responsible for trying to get them back on track. This should start with a quick gentle reminder, stepping up to more assertive persuasion attempts if necessary. The project cannot afford much subject loss, so the Ambassador will make every effort to keep a subject from being lost. If reminders or attempts to contact fail, the Ambassador will contact the central project office for suggestions.
3. The Ambassador will participate in local initial subject recruitment, and rolling recruitment if that happens.
-In coordination with the central project office, the Ambassador will help devise the recruitment strategy that is appropriate for local conditions. This includes identifying local vape shops and social media channels.
-The Ambassador will communicate one-to-one via email (or whatever channel is practical) with every “on the ground” recruiter (e.g., vape shops who are asking customers to participate, local vaping social media influencers). This will provide a point of contact and offer an opportunity to answer questions and provide personalized suggestions. The Ambassador will try to get these recruiters to join a group email/chat to further facilitate this, and will communicate important content from that group directly to each (in recognition that people do not always pay attention to group discussions they are part of).
-The Ambassador will make face-to-face visits with those recruiters, to provide further encouragement and the “human touch”, and to offer suggestions about logistics (thoughts on this will be provided by the central office) and answer any questions. It may be impractical to visit every such recruiter, but the Ambassador will visit as many as is practical.
4. The Ambassador is responsible for getting the signed informed consent from study subjects. Seeking ethics committee approval is the responsibility of the central project office, but the Ambassador might be a contact link between the ethics committee and the central project office. The central project office will prepare the ethics application materials, with the Ambassador possibly providing site-specific information. Ambassadors that are familiar with the ethics approval process will be invited to participate more in that process, but this is not a requirement for the Ambassador position.
5. The Ambassador will feed back observations to the central project office.
-Ambassadors will report any observations they make while performing their other tasks about problems, insights about how to do things better, etc. These can be shared in the all-Ambassadors email (or similar) channel that will be set up to aid everyone in performing these tasks, or communicated directly to the project head.
-Ambassadors will update the central project office with any pertinent information from the subjects (e.g., changes of contact information; statements of annoyance).
-Ambassadors should think of themselves as an integral part of the research team and not be modest about communication — i.e., err on the side of providing too much information. Should the information be something the central project office is already aware of or working on, no harm is done. If it is a novel insight that no one else has yet made, we do not want it to get lost. Any idea that has not already been disseminated as a general instruction from the central project office is welcome (as are suggestions that disseminated ideas might not be right!).
-Ambassadors will report to the project head at least monthly, even if they have nothing much to tell or ask. Should they have something interesting to report, that should be sent right away.
6. The Ambassadors will help find their own replacements if necessary.
-The length of the project makes it likely that some Ambassadors will not stay in their position through the duration. An Ambassador who is leaving the position will be in the best position to identify possible replacements, and will try to recruit one or more candidates. The decision about who to hire will rest with the project office.
-Any Ambassador who anticipates leaving the position should provide as much advance notice as possible. Notice of a pending departure will not affect the remainder of the Ambassador’s time in the job, and it will facilitate a better transition.