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Meet our Executive Vice President for the Americas, LaQuinta Jernigan

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Meet our EVP Americas LaQuinta Jernigan
COVID-19

“Our culture of putting patients first, coupled with our creative and innovative approach during challenging times hasn’t just helped us cope with a global pandemic, but has also shone a light on how we can increase diversity and inclusion in clinical trials in the future.”

In her five years at mdgroup, LaQuinta has seen the business evolve from an event management company to a leading global provider of personalised clinical study services.

Passionate about putting the patient at the heart of everything we do, LaQuinta shares what she has learnt through the challenges of the pandemic, what she thinks sets mdgroup apart from our competitors, and what exciting developments we can expect to see for the company in 2021. 

Hi LaQuinta! What are your current role and your key responsibilities in that role at mdgroup?

My current role here at mdgroup is Executive Vice President for the Americas. I oversee our global commercial team and work very closely with them in managing all of our customer relations.

I also make sure that from an operational standpoint, internal department heads and stakeholders have what they need to ensure that all departments are working at full capacity in a way that’s efficient and makes sense for the Americas.

What are you most passionate about in your role at mdgroup?

I’m passionate about the overall patient experience and making sure that the patient experience isn’t just reserved for certain demographics.

Diversity in clinical trials is something that, historically, has been extremely lacking, but it’s been brought to the forefront of our thinking during the past 12 months. The industry is starting to talk about what it really means to have a lack of diversity in clinical trials, yet you can’t have diversity throughout a clinical trial if you don’t address the core needs of all patients.

mdgroup specifically helps organisations do that – and it’s one of the reasons I’m so excited to be working at mdgroup at this point in our evolution.

We bring services and solutions to patients and enable diverse demographics access to services and solutions that they may not have had otherwise. Some of the barriers that are in place for some of these demographics are the very barriers that prevent them from being able to participate in clinical trials in the first place.

So we’re able to support not only the overall patient experience – but with diversifying the patient pool for clinical trials from the get-go, ultimately, facilitate better treatment being available for all patient groups.

How do you translate this passion into action at mdgroup?

We translate this passion into action by putting the patient experience at the centre of everything we do. 

Dealing with the pandemic this year, it’s been very hard to conduct clinical trials via traditional methods. So, we proactively approached our clients with suggestions on how to decentralise their clinical trials. We can bring care to the patient’s home, or we can bring the patient to the site when it’s safe to do so by removing the need for them to have to travel on their own, or figure out complicated logistics. We’re able to look at things differently and we’re not afraid to think outside of the box to keep clinical trial timelines on track while still meeting patients’ needs.

We also work closely with patient groups to understand pain points within specific communities, niche challenges and their concerns. This enables us not just to better understand for ourselves, but means we can take these insights to our clients to ensure the pharma companies are empowered to approach situations with sensitivity and mindfulness.

Our culture of putting the patient first and listening to their concerns, coupled with our creative and innovative approach during challenging times haven’t just helped us cope with a global pandemic, but has also shone a light onto how we can increase diversity and demographic inclusion across all clinical trials in the future.

You mention the global pandemic. What impact has COVID-19 had on the way that you operate, and the clinical industry as a whole?

Of course, this pandemic has been awful. COVID-19 came and shook everything up personally and professionally, demanding that for us to carry on with science, for us to continue to find cures and therapies that are so needed, we have to be ready for change immediately.

Solutions for decentralised trials have always been there, but there has also been this fear of the unknown, or fear of change from our clinical clients. I am very proud of how we pushed past that fear of change to empower our clients to try solutions that ultimately played a part in the development of vaccines and therapies for COVID. 

Under the guidance and approval of the FDA, we’re able to meet patients on a whole new level and we are now doing things that we’ve never done before in the patient’s home. Our industry is in the spotlight right now and all the changes that we’ve implemented to make things work during this pandemic are changing the perception of the industry for the better.

I hope that when this pandemic is behind us, we can keep up the momentum and continue to change and evolve this industry to be so much more focused on the patient.

What has been the direct impact of COVID-19 on your team at mdgroup, and how have you had to innovate?

I work very closely with the commercial team, and salespeople are people-people! They love talking to clients, they love that social interaction. So this pandemic has been quite difficult for a sales team not being able to take a client to lunch, meet at a client’s office, or give presentations in person.

We’ve had to get creative to keep making those human connections. We’ve done things like virtual happy hours and ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, where we all order food and come together to give us that sense that we’re meeting together on some level.

We’ve also re-learned connecting through old fashioned letter writing! It’s bizarre, but when your day is filled with emails and zoom calls, sometimes getting a handwritten letter is just what you need.

It’s been a year of adapting and learning new ways to do things, but we’ve also learnt we can eliminate some of the inefficiencies, for example, we can certainly cut back on some of our travel. But I will not lie – I am looking forward to seeing people in the flesh again, being able to shake a hand and give a hug. I think we’re all looking forward to that! But we’ll definitely take some of these new lessons learned with us to evolve how we do business.

What do you hope to see evolving within the clinical industry over the next five years?

Once the pandemic is over, it could be quite easy for the industry to creep back into old ways of doing things. But over the next five years, I want to see our industry continuing to evolve in the way that we have during this pandemic.

I want to see a huge uptick in diversity. We know why clinical trials aren’t as diverse as they should be, so let’s tackle those issues head-on.

I want to see momentum for the decentralised clinical trial continue and I want to find more ways to meet people and patients where they are.

Overall, I want us to continue to improve the patient experience. We now know that we can do so much more from our homes, we can provide care in ways that are customisable for each patient and their unique needs.

Over the next five years, I want us to continue with those efforts and make remarkable change within this industry that will result in positive experiences for patients and bring science forward even faster.

How is mdgroup going to be part of this evolution?

We already have digital solutions that are constantly reviewed and revamped to meet the needs of patients.

But our work with patient groups will turbo boost those digital solutions to continue to give us the edge in what needs to be a constantly evolving industry. Thanks to our relationships with patient groups we have a consistent feed of insight from patients. As we receive those insights, we evolve our strategy and our solutions for clients.

We don’t believe that what we have today will still work tomorrow because we’re learning more every day about what patients need and what they want.

mdgroup will continue to serve our patients, never stop evolving and continually bring new solutions for all clinical trials.

And finally, what makes mdgroup different from other CROs and clinical research agencies?

mdgroup is very different. We had a unique start in this industry working with healthcare professionals on the event side. Some people wonder how that correlates into patient care, but we feel that’s exactly the missing ingredient in patient care!

We have folded that white-glove service, second nature to our event management business, into patient services. Excellent customer care is taken with every patient we touch in a clinical trial. That’s what makes us different.

Our main goal and our focus is the patient, making sure they’re heard, making sure that their needs are met, and that they’re taken care of throughout the clinical trial.

We’re also not a large organization, as a mid-sized company, we‘re much more flexible and nimble and are constantly looking to create and innovate from within.

I’m excited about what we’ve learnt this year and what we’re capable of as a global team when you combine those learnings of 2020 with the strengths of our business and our ‘patient first’ ethos.