“It’s really encouraging to talk to girls, and to hear their enthusiasm about helping and participating in health research,” says Shadi Mahmoodi, Vaccine Evaluation Center (VEC) Research Assistant and recruiter for the QUEST HPV Study. “The study doesn’t just help girls locally, but all over the world – especially in low-resource, rural and remote areas – and girls are excited to be part of it.”

“It’s really special to speak with someone when they’re just beginning to feel they have a place in the world, and that they can make a real change,” says Jennifer Smith, also with the QUEST team. “Once they realize they have an opportunity to do something powerful, they get quite excited.”

Shadi and Jennifer spend much of their time at the VEC actively recruiting B.C. girls to participate in the QUEST HPV Study, a national study that is designed to evaluate the different HPV vaccine programmes in Canada. Shadi’s background is in cell biology, but this fall she’ll begin working toward her master’s degree in public health. Jennifer studied ballet at the National Ballet School in Toronto, and is now working on a degree in biology. Both are passionate about health research; of the VEC, Shadi says: “This is the best place to be if you’re interested in public health issues.”

What is the QUEST HPV Study?

The QUEST HPV Study is an evaluation of HPV vaccine programs in Canada. The goal of the study is to determine whether two doses are as effective as three doses at preventing the four strains of HPV that are responsible for most instances of genital warts and cervical cancer. The study involves girls from across Canada. In B.C., the study is led by Dr. Simon Dobson at the VEC.

Currently, the B.C. team is recruiting about 3000 girls to participate in the study; we’re about a third of the way there.

What’s your biggest recruitment challenge?

“Girls are really busy,” says Jennifer. “They lead very full lives, so it’s hard to make that first contact with them, and then to get them through the consenting process, and to complete their paperwork.”

The beginning of the process is the most challenging, as that’s the point at which recruiters need to explain the study to the girls and their families (usually moms). “Once the girls consent to participate in the study, it gets a lot easier,” Jennifer says.

How long does it take to recruit just one girl?

“Sometimes it’s quick, if we can make contact right away and if the families are interested in the research,” Shadi says. But the informed consent process takes time, and QUEST recruiters are careful not to rush the girls and their families through the initial stages.

“The average time it takes to recruit someone is about four hours,” explains Jennifer. “We take a lot of care to make sure that the girls are well-informed, and that their families have all the information they need to play a supporting role.”

What about your work as a recruiter for the QUEST HPV Study do you find most gratifying?

“For me it’s about the girls and how excited they are,” says Shadi. “They see the big picture; the study doesn’t just affect girls in Canada, but all over the world. This research will have a huge impact on women’s lives, especially in low- and middle-income countries where rates of cervical cancer are high. The young women we speak to are very caring – they want to help other girls.”

“It is amazing to talk to these girls, and to know that this research is very practical,” says Jennifer. “For example, it’s not just the vaccine that’s being studied; the QUEST girls are also helping to inform research into whether the swab method we’re using to collect the samples remotely can be an effective way to evaluate cervical cells. It’s very concrete, and we’re seeing that the swabs can be effective, which will help girls and women in rural and remote locations abroad and here in Canada as well.”

For more information about the QUEST HPV Study, visit www.questhpvstudy.ca