Cochrane's 30 under 30: Robin Vernooij

Cochrane's 30 under 30: Robin Vernooij

Cochrane is made up of 13,000 members and over 50,000 supporters who come from more than 130 countries, worldwide. Our volunteers and contributors are researchers, health professionals, patients, carers, people passionate about improving health outcomes for everyone, everywhere.

Cochrane is an incredible community of people who all play their part in improving health and healthcare globally. We believe that by putting trusted evidence at the heart of health decisions we can achieve a world of improved health for all. 

Many of our contributors are young people working with Cochrane as researchers, citizen scientists, medical students, and volunteer language translators and we want to recognize the work of this generation of contributors as part of this series called, Cochrane’s “30 under 30." 

In this series, we will interview 30 young people, 30 years old or younger who are contributing to Cochrane activities in a range of ways, all promoting evidence-informed health decision making across the world. 

We will be hearing from them in a series of interviewees published over the coming months.

We're keen to hear from you. Would you like to take part in this series? Do you know someone you'd like to see interviewed? Contact  Or if you want to know more about Cochrane’s work contact where our community support team will be happy to answer your questions.

Name: Robin Vernooij
Age: 29
Occupation: Post-doctoral researcher at the Netherlands Comprehensive Cancer Organisation and post-doctoral fellow at the Dalhousie University in the Nutritional Recommendations and Accessible Evidence Summaries Composed of Systematic Reviews (NutriRECS) group
Program: Netherlands Comprehensive Cancer Organisation

How did you first hear about Cochrane?
I became aware of Cochrane in 2011 while working on my Master's degree in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the VU University in Amsterdam. One of my courses focused on the methodology and statistics of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. The Cochrane Handbook was a “suggested reading” and not surprisingly turned out to be an invaluable learning resource.

How did you become involved with Cochrane? What is your background?
My medical career started in 2006 at the HAN University of Applied Sciences in Nijmegen, the Netherlands where I obtained his Bachelor's degree in nursing in 2010. Afterwards, as part of my Master's degree, I completed a one-year placement at the Iberoamerican Cochrane Centre in Barcelona. Subsequently I was fortunate to continue to work at the centre for two more years. It was with the same centre, affiliated with Autonomous University of Barcelona, that I completed my PhD thesis in the Methodology of Biomedical Research and Public Health (2013 to 2018).

What do you do in Cochrane?
Apart from being employed by the Iberoamerican Cochrane Center for almost three years, I have been involved in the Cochrane community by collaborating with several Cochrane groups. In this capacity, I have helped author teams in completing their systematic reviews, including authors and editors of the Anaesthesia, Critical, and Emergency Care group; Dementia and Cognitive Improvement group; Urology group; and the Vascular group. Additionally, I serve as a contact editor for the Cochrane Urology group and as a regular peer-reviewer for the Cochrane Screening and Diagnostic Tests Methods Group.

What specifically do you enjoy about working for Cochrane and what have you learnt?
Working for Cochrane on a systematic review includes commonly a multidisciplinary collaboration between methodologists, statisticians, clinicians, and policy-makers. This collaboration allows me to learn more about the practices of the other involved disciplines. Secondly, I welcome any opportunity to learn more about the quality standards and emerging methods in conducting systematic reviews or meta-analyses. Being involved in the Cochrane collaboration allows me to remain up-to-date with the “gold standard” of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Finally, contributing to the most comprehensive up-to-date evidence summaries on a given topic is very motivating.

What are your future plans?
Apart from my enthusiasm about systematic reviews, I am also keen on the development and updating of guidelines. Obviously, they go hand in hand since guidelines should be informed by the best summaries of the latest evidence available. My future plans are to collaborate on making an evidence ecosystem in which guidelines (informed by high-quality systematic reviews) are used to implement quality indicators in clinical practice. These quality indicators, based on the recommendations of the guidelines, should be used by healthcare professionals to treat their patients accordingly. Ideally, adherence to these quality indicators should be measured by registry data, allowing real-time feedback of the healthcare professionals performance.

In your personal experience, what one thing could Cochrane do better to improve its global profile?
Cochrane has grown a lot in the last five years and has many demands and priorities, particularly with respect to emerging methods including network-meta-analyses and living systematic reviews. I think that Cochrane should emphasise the need for living systematic reviews based on new practice-changing trials. If, at least, 75 new trials are published every day, it becomes very difficult to keep all available Cochrane reviews up-to-date. Methods and software development for identifying new trials, prioritising evidence that may be practice-changing, and conducting updates would be an asset to the organisation.

What do you hope for Cochrane for the future?
“It is surely a great criticism of our profession that we have not organised a critical summary, by specialty or subspecialty, adapted periodically, of all relevant randomised controlled trials” (Cochrane 1979).

Although we have, over the last 40 years, came a long way, in my modest experience, there is still much room for improvement in the original aim. And now we are facing additional challenges, such as: how are we going to keep our systematic reviews and guidelines up-to-date? How do we prioritise practice-changing new evidence? And how do we use new technologies to facilitate systematic review development? I hope we can collectively work together to answer these questions.

How important is it that young people get involved in Cochrane?
As with most successful medical and public health organisations that are non-for-profit, research volunteers are crucial and it is important that a substantial proportion have healthcare and research training. It is important that trainees recognise the role of systematic reviews for evidence-informed health care decision-making. Crucial to learning about systematic reviews is the opportunity to have hands-on-experience.

Why is this, do you think?
For most of the young people, building both an academic and clinical network is crucial for the success of their career. Those pursuing a PhD project in the field of medicine or public health should consider –in my opinion – conducting or supporting a Cochrane review. This allows collecting all available evidence, understanding risk of bias issues, summarising the certainty of evidence to generate conclusions, and, identifying gaps in the current knowledge. The identified gaps could be used as inspiration on follow-up studies in a PhD project and beyond.

What would your message be to other young people who want to get involved with Cochrane’s work but not sure where to start….?
I would suggest reaching out to authors and editors that may be in need of a helping hand. For instance, Cochrane often posts on its website, reviews in need of update help, particularly priority reviews. Additionally, they can start browsing Cochrane’s TaskExchange for opportunities such as translation, data-extraction, or risk of bias assessment, as well as Cochrane Crowd, which allows gaining experience in literature screening. To get started, there are often simple tasks (e.g. literature screening, data-extraction) available on these websites that can be of great help to those leading the systematic review process, tasks that perhaps lead to co-authorship!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019