CRA Burnout and How to Avoid It

by | Oct 25, 2021 | Clinical Research Careers | 0 comments

CRA Burnout. If you are in the clinical research industry, this is likely a phrase that you have heard or experienced. The reality is that CRA Burnout is becoming an increasingly bigger issue over time – for CRAs and their employers.

Work performed by CRAs is essential to not only the company for whom they work, but for all who could be affected by the results of the clinical trial. For that reason alone, it’s time to evaluate what can be done to help CRAs avoid burnout. When CRAs are able to achieve more of a work/life balance, they are able to deliver higher quality work.

This article discusses the importance of CRAs, CRA Burnout, and how CRA Burnout can be avoided.

High Demand and Shortage of CRAs

Clinical Research Associates play an integral role in clinical research by managing clinical trials to ensure the safety of new medications, devices or procedures.

  • They ensure compliance with the clinical trial protocol,
  • check clinical site activities either on-site or remote,
  • ensure patient safety,
  • confirm eligibility,
  • perform accountability of investigational product and study supplies,
  • review source documents, medical records and case report forms,
  • actively communicate with the Investigator, Clinical Research Coordinator, and other site staff,
  • and confirm that the scientific integrity of the data is protected and verified just to name a few tasks.

For years there has been a shortage of CRAs within the industry, along with an even higher demand now. The increased number of clinical trials since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the demand for CRAs (and other clinical research professionals for that matter) to skyrocket!

While companies want to win bids from Sponsors for as many clinical trials as possible, they also potentially do not have enough CRAs to effectively and successfully manage the trials.

The CRAs employed by the company are assigned more trials, adding to already full workloads, and contributing greatly to CRA Burnout.

Why CRAs Often Experience Burnout

When someone decides to become a CRA, they likely choose the field because
– they are interested in clinical research and the drug-to-market pipeline,
– are excited to be part of ground breaking work,
– are attracted to the salary,
– and likely enjoy traveling for work.

After a CRA accepts a position and is trained, the real work begins. However, the work itself is complicated and it can take many years for a research professional to have a complete understanding of the role and the expected deliverables.

ClinicalResearch.io reports that, in the United States, the CRA turnover rate is 25%.

According to an article in Clinical Leader, common struggles for CRAs include:
– being overworked,
– significant travel,
– limited time to see family and friends,
– and isolating work.

High CRA turnover causes an additional frequent struggle for other Clinical Research Associates, Clinical Research Organizations and Sponsors because when a CRA leaves in the middle of a clinical trial, another CRA has to take their place.

Due to the shortage of CRAs, it is highly likely that the CRA who acquires the trial is already over capacity.

Along with adding the management of additional studies to their workload, it also requires learning about the trial and/or site, deciphering where things were left, and determining what needs to be done to move forward.

Let’s go back to “deciphering where things were left.” Another cause for frustration for CRAs is how challenging it can be to work on a project that was started by someone else.

It is discouraging when notes are hard to read, or the previous and incoming CRAs had different project organization styles, or there aren’t explanations, etc. This process can be extremely time-consuming and draining, and unfortunately, is a regular occurrence for CRAs.

[ Read here how ClinEssentials’ tools can help your team get organized ]

Intense Workload + High Turnover Rate + CRA Shortage = CRA BURNOUT!

What CRAs Can Do to Avoid Burnout

The job of a Clinical Research Associate can be very fulfilling because of the ability to impact many lives by working on clinical research studies.

Being a CRA may be the ideal scenario for individuals who are interested in the medical field but don’t want to work directly with patients.

Furthermore, CRAs enjoy the perks that come with their career.

So, if you like being a CRA and want to continue your career, it is important to take steps to avoid burnout. Here are five suggestions:

  1. Take your Paid Time Off (PTO)! Even if you are too busy, take a day off, go on vacation, and give yourself a break!
  2. Utilize your time in airports or on airplanes with tedious tasks (expense reports, trip planning, follow-up reports, etc.) so that you don’t have as much work to complete when you get home.
  3. Choose a time of day to turn off your phone and close your computer. Determine the number of days a week that you are willing to work late. Stick to it!
  4. Build relationships with your manager and colleagues. Positive work relationships increase job happiness.
  5. Standardize your work to make it easier for everyone involved. Not only will this result in receiving fewer questions, but others may follow your lead as well. CRA Audit Notes are the perfect way to make this happen!

More ideas for avoiding burnout can be found in this article on LinkedIn Pulse.

How CROs and Sponsors can Help with CRA Burnout

CRA Burnout is not just an issue for the CRAs; it is also an issue for CROs and Sponsors.

If CRAs are experiencing burnout, they are likely not performing their job responsibilities as effectively and efficiently as they once were and as their job requires.

Burnout leads to exhaustion, disorganization, more mistakes, and a lack of motivation.
Burnout causes job dissatisfaction and unhappiness, which can trigger mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Ultimately, CRA Burnout is the main reason for high CRA turnover.

When CROs and Sponsors recognize that CRA burnout is a major issue and actively make changes to benefit the work/life balance of CRAs, burnout will start to decrease, and turnover will decrease as well.

Based on the suggestions mentioned above for how CRAs can avoid burnout, here are 5 suggestions for CROs and Sponsors to help CRAs avoid burnout:

  1. Encourage CRAs to take their PTO. Create an action plan to use when CRAs are on PTO so they feel more comfortable being away. An action plan could be as simple as assigning a backup CRA for each trial. When the assigned CRA takes PTO, they would provide the backup CRAs with a status update for each trial as well as how information can be found if needed.
  2. Provide expense reports, trip planning apps, etc. that can easily be accessed and used during travel.
  3. Notify CRAs in advance if a specific study will require late nights or has different requirements than normal.
  4. Prioritize relationship building, open communication, and team building with CRAs. Creating connections will lead to greater job satisfaction. These articles in Clinical Leader and ClinicalResearch.io discuss the importance for CRAs to have relationships with superiors and peers.
  5. Ease the CRAs work burden where possible. Equip them with the tools that will enable success and help build a strong rapport with their sites. Increased organization and efficiency for CRAs can only lead to positive results for a CRO and Sponsor. This is exactly what CRA Audit Notes can help CRAs achieve.

Clinical Leader discusses additional suggestions in this article.

Taking Action on CRA Burnout

CRA Burnout is legitimate. It is real to the CRAs who have to deal with it, and is becoming more of a reality as the number of clinical trials continues to increase while the number of CRAs continues to decrease.

The big changes mentioned above are important and even small changes can make a significant difference in the life of a CRA.

For example, a CRAs chief pet peeve may be writing the same industry phrase on a sticky note or piece of paper countless times each day.

By providing sticky notes with common industry phrases at the top, CRAs save time and annoyance, allowing them to better focus on the important aspects of the trial. Win – Win!

CRA burnout is being openly discussed in the clinical research industry, and that is a great starting point. Now it’s time to take action! Start big or start small – just start! Your CRAs will thank you and their appreciation will be evident in their work.

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