Everything You Need to Know to Start a Career in Clinical Research

Posted by Chad Birt on Apr 21, 2021 7:00:00 AM
Chad Birt

Are you a professional in the health care or life sciences industry who wants to try something new? Does the thought of contributing to the discovery of new drugs or medical devices inspire you? If you answered yes to either of these questions, consider pursuing a career in clinical research. 


In addition to being rewarding, the field is experiencing rapid growth. A special report by ACRP found that on average, research-related job postings increase by almost 10% each month, while the rate of clinical trial activities is expanding by about 12.2% each year.  


There are a lot of opportunities. But where do you begin? To successfully complete a career transition, it’s important to understand the types of entry-level positions available, the skills required, and ways you can continue to grow. Let’s dive in!


Entry-Level Positions in Clinical Research


Most research professionals begin their career as a clinical research coordinator (CRC), clinical trial associate (CTA), or clinical research associate (CRA). Though similar in title, each position has different responsibilities:


Clinical Research Coordinator (CRC). CRCs report directly to a study’s principal investigator. They’re responsible for handling activities like screening and recruiting trial participants, recording data, and keeping track of all necessary paperwork. 


Clinical Trial Associate (CTA). CTAs work alongside a clinical trial manager. They’re responsible for adhering to specific research timelines, providing vendor oversight, and maintaining regulatory documentation.


Clinical Research Associate (CRA). CRAs facilitate collaboration between a clinical trial’s management team and the participating clinical sites. They monitor the progress of each study and ensure everyone involved adheres to Good Clinical Practice (GCP).


Each of these positions plays an important role in the clinical research process. They present an opportunity to learn a variety of important skills and establish a strong foundation for future career growth.


After a few years as a CRC, CTA, or CRA, it’s possible to move into more senior roles like Clinical Trial Manager (CTM) or team lead.


Important Skills All Clinical Research Professionals Need


Now that you know a little bit about the positions available, let’s look at the skills needed to succeed. 


1.) A thorough understanding of ICH Guidelines. ICH is an international council that creates and establishes standards for clinical research. The organization’s goal is to improve trial methods, increase ethical awareness, and facilitate the collection of quality data. For a complete list of ICH’s Quality Guidelines, click here


2.) Strong communication skills. Clinical trials have dozens of moving parts, hundreds or even thousands of participants, and various stages. Clear, concise communication (both written and verbal) acts as the grease that keeps the machine moving forward.


Throughout each trial, it’s crucial to maintain communication with management, fellow team members, and the patients in your care. Ask questions, speak up if you’re unsure about something, and when collecting data, provide as much detail as possible.


3.) Attention to detail. The success or failure of a clinical trial depends on your ability to accurately collect and document information. Every study sponsor establishes strict guidelines for gathering, recording, and correcting data. Familiarize yourself with these processes and regularly maintain the eTMF


4.) Technological competency. CROs and trial sponsors are becoming increasingly reliant on software and other digital applications. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, some are even conducting remote studies by incorporating wearables, sensors, and telemedicine platforms. 


You don’t necessarily need to know specific programs, but you should have a basic understanding of electronic systems like patient portals, electronic source documentation, and electronic patient-reported outcomes. 


5.) A willingness to try new things. No two clinical trials are exactly alike, and responsibilities vary from day-to-day. For some, this type of work environment triggers feelings of fear or anxiety. But if you’re passionate about learning and like trying new things, you’re sure to thrive. Remember: everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. As long as you have a good attitude and give it your best, you’ll be a valued member of any research team.


Tips for Continued Career Growth


Once you’ve made the transition to clinical research, continue to hone your skills. The more willing you are to build on your knowledge, the greater the opportunities to enhance your career. Here are a few simple ways to stand out:


1.) Become a Certified Clinical Research Associate. CRA Certification is awarded by The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP). It’s a distinction that lets others know you care about ethics, quality, and professionalism. 


2.) Build a relationship with a mentor. A mentor can make your career journey that much more rewarding. Tapping their knowledge, expertise, and network can help you feel more confident and open the door to new opportunities you never thought possible. 


3.) Join a professional organization. Becoming a member of a professional organization is an easy and cost-effective way to expand your network and learn new things. Some of the most popular organizations for clinical research professionals include the Association of Clinical Research Professionals, Society of Clinical Research Associates, and Academy of Physicians in Clinical Research.


We hope you’ve found this information helpful. Do you have any tips or recommendations that you’d add based on personal experience? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Please fill out the electronic form below and then click the “submit comment” button.

Topics: Clinical Research, clinical research jobs, careers

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