Michelle Tomasino trailblazes hiking routes in her free time, so it only seems natural that she trailblaze new UNLV research paths as well. As the university’s first-ever clinical trials manager in the office of sponsored programs, Tomasino has been helping UNLV’s School of Medicine take on new research projects involving human subjects.
I worked for 11 years at a cancer hospital back in Michigan. I’d wanted to work there because it was the second-opinion cancer center we went to for my mom, and it never left my mind. I applied so often that human resources called me one day and said, “We’ll reach out to you when we have an opening.” I ended up getting a job there when I graduated, transitioning members from the School of Medicine there to that cancer hospital.
When I found out that the UNLV School of Medicine was launching and that research was transferring along with the faculty from the University of Nevada, Reno’s (UNR) School of Medicine, I thought it would be a wonderful, challenging opportunity to apply my past experience with other organizations, which I have found have the same challenges, and start fresh here.
What do you do in your role at UNLV?
My main focus is to review, process, and transition research studies from the UNR School of Medicine to ours, and to establish the clinical trials process here at UNLV. I currently support about 12 physicians and their research, ensuring all of their studies transfer over correctly. I am also working with the UNLV School of Medicine, Practice Plan, and faculty physicians to establish the research program.
What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?
UNLV faculty members are very open to listening and understanding the process. At more established centers with people who have worked there for years, it’s sometimes hard to get others to understand you if you’re new. I haven’t found that to be the case here. I’ve been able to provide information with respect to clinical trials, and it has been well received.
What is the biggest misconception about your field?
The biggest misconception is that it doesn’t take much to maintain a research protocol — those documents that detail and track research projects. We’re reviewing each transferable and new protocol and considering its scientific merit by asking if the study has merit and if it is feasible to transfer to our area of Nevada. We look for protocols that might compete with each other and consider whether or not it’s justifiable to bring similar protocols to the area if they already exist here. We also look at the budgets for these studies, determine their coverage analysis, and see — based on each protocol’s schedule of assessments — whether or not the study is feasible at UNLV. There are so many components to the process that if you saw a flowchart of it all, you’d probably say, “Never mind!”
If you could fix one thing in the world, what would it be?
I know it’s boring, but communication is the key to everything in both one’s personal life and in business.
Who is someone that you admire, and why?
I look up to anyone who teaches, enlightens, or mentors. You never know when someone might learn something that could potentially help them in future.
When I was working on my bachelor’s in nutrition and food science at Wayne State University, I worked with Ahmad Heydari in that department as a student in his lab. He was the person who introduced me to research, and he was a phenomenal mentor.
I got two takeaways from him that apply to my field now. First, be helpful and informative. Understanding research on any level is important, whether you’re on the receiving end or supporting the research, and if I can help with that, I’m happy to. The other thing I learned from him is that the best kind of teaching is showing. If you show people how things can be done, they’ll remember that.
Where did you grow up, and is there anything you miss about home?
I grew up in the township West Bloomfield, about a half hour just west of Detroit. The only thing I miss is family; I definitely don’t miss the snow.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
Not a lot of people know that I love to hike, but I do. Michigan is very flat, but in Las Vegas, we hike Red Rock and Mt. Charleston, and we take annual trips to Zion.
Tell us about a time that you’ve been daring.
My friend Mary and I decided that we were going to hike Turtlehead Peak at Red Rock, which is a 2,000-foot elevation change from where you start. It should hands-down be on everyone’s bucket list. We did it, but it was very scary. We met people along the way who told us it was worse than Mount Saint Helena. We didn’t know if we should turn around at that point; we’d only brought one bottle of water, but we went for it.
There was no path at that time. If you go now, there’s a sign. Anyway, there’s this narrow path you have to take in order to get up a little higher to the actual top. When we were coming back down, we were chatting and missed the little path, so we kept going down, and then we realized we were way off course. We had to double back. We finally found the narrow path, and it was such a relief when we did, but it took us quite some time to get down the right way again.
The next time around, I took a yellow ribbon and tied it around a tree on the way back. My husband and I left it there for others so hopefully they wouldn’t get lost as I had.
Do you have any tips for success?
There are two tips I think can help anyone. The first is, whether you choose to focus on negative things or positive things, what you focus on is what you will find. The other is, if you don’t know, ask.