Clinical Research is an exciting, rapidly growing field, but figuring out what you want to do and how to find a job can be challenging!
If you want to break into the Clinical Research industry, it is helpful to learn the fundamentals and where you can get beneficial experience that will lead you to the best role for you.
This article goes over what Clinical Research is, what it takes to secure a job in the Clinical Research industry, and how to find the right job based on your skills and experience.
What is Clinical Research?
The primary goal of Clinical Research is to develop new ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat diseases and other medical conditions.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Clinical Research is vital to the NIH mission of enhancing health, lengthening life, and reducing the burdens of illness and disability.”
A team of Clinical Research Professionals works on each clinical trial. Each research team member has a specific role, and the overall goals are to prioritize patient safety, maintain compliance, adhere to the study protocol, and provide quality data on time and within budget.
Clinical Research is rewarding work because of its potential to make advancements in preventing, treating, curing, and improving quality of life.
How can I get a job in Clinical Research?
The education and experience credentials needed to become a Clinical Research Professional vary based on the specific role.
A Clinical Research Coordinator (CRC), for example, can be an entry-level position. A high school diploma or GED is required for the CRC role, and zero to two years of Clinical Research experience is ideal. A college degree is not a requirement; however, a four-year bachelor’s degree in a health-related field may be helpful for CRCs who want to continue to level up in the industry. Being familiar with medical terminology is also a plus.
The role of a Clinical Research Associate (CRA) is a very sought-after job but is not entry-level. Most CRAs have a 4-year Bachelor of Science degree in a health-related field. Experience as a CRC or CTA will help prepare you to be a CRA. Individuals typically move into the CRA role after 1-2 years of monitoring or other relevant experience.
An advanced degree in Clinical Research, biological sciences, or a related field can help you distinguish yourself from other applicants.
Employment in Clinical Research is highly competitive. However, if you are open to starting at an entry-level position, you can gain experience through your work, take advantage of training courses, and use this to apply for job openings. Pursuing specific courses and certifications also helps you gain opportunities and a helpful advantage.
What are the different types of roles in the Clinical Research industry?
It is important to note that there are many different roles in the Clinical Research industry. It is helpful to understand how each role fits into the overall picture.
For this article, we focus on three of the most well-known and desired roles in Clinical Research: Clinical Research Coordinator (CRC), Clinical Research Associate (CRA), and Clinical Trial Manager (CTM). We encourage you to research other positions outside of these three as well to see which role best resonates with your ultimate career goals. We also recommend choosing your area of interest based on your skill set, educational background, and experience.
Clinical Research Coordinators
CRCs typically work on-site and are under the supervision of the Principal Investigator (PI). CRCs support, facilitate, and organize daily clinical trial activities for one or more trials at their research site. They work directly with patients.
Typical daily responsibilities of a CRC include:
- Assist with patient recruitment
- Conduct study procedures as outlined in the protocol
- Follow up on action items
- Collect vitals, ECGs, and patient labs
- Communicate with team members and/or study participants
- Provide updates to the PI and CRA
- And much more!
Experienced CRCs who excel in the role can advance to the CRA role. Additional training will be required when advancing from the CRC to the CRA role.
Clinical Research Associates
CRAs, also called Study Monitors, are typically employed by a Sponsor, aka Pharmaceutical company or Clinical Research Organization (CRO). Some CRAs are also independent contractors.
CRAs manage clinical trials to ensure the safety of new medications, devices, or procedures. A CRA’s primary responsibility is to monitor the progress of an ongoing clinical trial and verify compliance with the trial study protocol and ensure patient safety. Most CRAs manage multiple clinical trials simultaneously.
Typical monitoring responsibilities for a CRA include:
- Asses Serious Adverse Events (SAEs), Adverse Events (AEs), and Adverse Events of Special Interest (AESIs)
- Verify patient eligibility
- Follow up on and create new action items
- Review study documents
- Communicate with the site staff and answer questions
- Confirm the integrity of the data
- Provide training for site personnel
- Write monitoring visit reports
- And much more!
CRAs generally travel to assigned sites for monitoring approximately eight to ten days per month. Most CRAs work out of a home office when they are not traveling.
You can read about the similarities and differences between CRCs and CRAs here.
Similar to CRCs being promoted to CRAs, the next progression for a CRA is to the Clinical Trial Manager role.
Clinical Trial Managers
A CTM is a challenging role that comes with a lot of responsibility. As leaders of a Clinical Research Team, CTMs are accountable for the success of their studies. Different from other Clinical Research roles, CTMs are involved in each stage of a clinical study – from Study Start-Up to Study Close-Out. A Clinical Trial Manager typically oversees day-to-day clinical activities and drives study timelines.
Typical responsibilities for a CTM are:
- Review monitoring visit reports
- Develop recruitment and retention methods
- Train and manage the Clinical Research Associates
- Communicate relevant information and issues to the Sponsor
- Ensure the trial runs smoothly
- Manage study vendors
- Analyze and approve invoices
- And much more!
Clinical Trial Managers are in meetings for at least half of their workday, have limited travel, and generally complete most of their work from their home office. This blog post offers a comprehensive look at the CTM role.
The next level for a CTM is becoming a Project Manager (PM) or Associate Director of Clinical Operations.
Where can I find training opportunities for research professionals?
Companies may offer training opportunities, but you can also find more comprehensive training and certification courses outside of your company.
Here are a few organizations to check out and see if the training they offer is right for you:
- Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP)
- Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA)
- Aspiring CRA
- The CRA Academy
- The CRA Helper
*Please note: This is not an exhaustive list. Instead, it gives you a few websites to check. A simple Google search will result in additional options.
The ClinEssentials CTM Training Course
The ClinEssentials CTM Training Course is for aspiring and current Clinical Trial Managers who feel underprepared, overwhelmed, or intrigued about the CTM role.
The All Access + LIVE Course is for individuals with at least 1-2 years of Clinical Research experience. Participants receive over 12 hours of direct access to the instructor and learn via live training sessions that include practical application of concepts learned and self-paced learning modules.
The Self-Paced Course is for more experienced individuals with at least four years of Clinical Research experience. Self-paced participants can learn at their own pace, as their schedule allows, and can join the live Q&A Sessions to have the instructor answer questions and learn from others.
Click here to learn more about and register for CTM Training and receive the education, skills, resources, and support to help you become a leader in your field!
How can I find relevant experience for a job in Clinical Research?
Internships are offered at most Clinical Research companies
Look for internship opportunities at Pharmaceutical companies or CROs. Many provide internships to undergraduates interested in pursuing a career in Clinical Research. This is a great way to get in the door, work your way up, and take advantage of the available opportunities for gaining experience.
Volunteer or work in a hospital
Consider volunteering at a local hospital or medical center. Working directly with patients and other healthcare workers in a medical setting provides a valuable experience that is a helpful addition to your resume.
Networking with people currently employed in Clinical Research is a great way to learn and understand what it takes to have a successful career. This also may lead to connections for job leads and opportunities.
Along with joining local networking groups, consider becoming active in an online community. Ask questions, add comments, and show your interest.
Take it further by following industry leaders like Dan Sfera and Tiffany Ashton on LinkedIn. Read their posts (don’t forget to read the comments!), watch their videos, and you will learn valuable information that may give you an edge in your career.
If you are already working in Clinical Research and want to move to the next level, share your intentions with your boss. Ask for opportunities to take on additional responsibilities to help you learn and gain experience in the role.
For example, if you are a CRC who wants to become a CRA, ask if you can shadow the CRA during their next monitoring visit. Or, if you are a CRA who wants to become a CTM, ask if you can plan a Kick-Off Meeting, provide training for other CRAs, or take on another CTM task.
You can talk about your experience and demonstrate that you showed initiative in your interviews, which is a great way to stand out from other candidates.
Next steps for aspiring Clinical Research Professionals
Clinical Research is a gratifying career. Take time to develop some skills needed to succeed in the industry.
ClinEssentials created the Introduction to Clinical Research Guidebook for anyone who is new to or interested in pursuing a career in the Clinical Research industry. The Guide features fundamental facts, a 10-step plan to start your career journey, trusted websites, free resources, and more.
Click here to purchase the Guidebook – and jump-start your career with the information you need to know.
Read the guide, research, do your “homework,” and look for ways to get experience to be prepared with a well-planned and effective strategy to land your dream job. Also, be sure to write an effective and focused resume that helps you stand out.
PRO TIP: Be careful of resume writing services that are not familiar with the Clinical Research industry. They may offer good suggestions, but not necessarily suggestions that will help you stand out in the Clinical Research job market.
You can Book a Call with a Clinical Research Career Expert from ClinEssentials who knows what employers are looking for. You’ll start with the basics and conclude with actionable steps to keep you moving forward. Click here to schedule a 60-minute call – and receive four fantastic freebies to use as you continue on your career path.
Tiffany Ashton, MAS, CCRA, has over twenty years of experience as a Clinical Research Professional. Tiffany is the Director of Operations for ClinEssentials, a consultant in the Clinical Trial Manager role, and the expert instructor for the CTM Training Course.