Clinical Research Associate - Career Overview and Outlook

How to Become a Clinical Research Associate

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The role of a clinical research associate (CRA) was once named by CNN as one of the "Best Jobs in America." In fact, in 2012, the job was fourth on a list of 100 top jobs according to CNN. What makes this profession such a desirable one? Although it didn't make the CNN list last year, there is still a lot to love about a career as a clinical research associate, which is sometimes referred to as a clinical monitor or trial monitor.

A competitive income and a strong outlook for clinical research associates make working as a CRA a great career choice. According to Indeed.com, the average salary for CRAs as of August 31, 2015, is $95,000, but some earn over $125,000.

Growth is projected to be stronger than the average job, at 36.4% in the ten year period from 2012-2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Clinical research trials are studies which help to test and verify the efficacy and safety of a pharmaceutical, medical device, or procedure for treating a given illness or condition, and clinical research associates play an integral role in conducting and controlling these studies. 

To learn more about the role of clinical research associates, we turned to Dan Sfera, a clinical research industry professional, for more insight. Sfera is the CEO and president of The Clinical Trials Guru, LLC, and DSCS Sweat Equity & Investments, LLC, through which he assists sponsors and clinical research organizations (CROs) with site selection, research staff training, recruitment, contract negotiations, budget, and business development.

What is a typical day like for a clinical research associate? (What are the basic job duties, tasks, hours, etc.?)

Dan Sfera: Every day is different. The typical work week is 60 hours and about 70% of the time is spent "onsite" at various research clinics throughout the country. Tasks include reviewing source data for the studies as well as comparing it to the EDC systems.

Issuing queries and helping research staff solve any discrepancies either in the data or for the overall well being of the study participant.

What education and training is required to become a clinical research associate?

Dan Sfera: Usually a bachelor's degree is required, preferably in a science-related field of study, but not absolutely necessarily. GCP training will also be needed.

Who (what types of companies) employ CRAs, and what are some things a CRA should look for in an employer?

Dan Sfera: CROs (clinical research organizations). They are huge multinational organizations that are often publicly traded. Clinical research associates should look for training, ability to get promoted, workload, amount of time required to travel, as well as what therapeutic indication studies they can work on.

What should a CRA be prepared to discuss in an interview? What do employers look for in a CRA? (skill set, personality traits, qualifications, etc.)

Dan Sfera: All of the above. One desirable qualification that most sites really need is patient recruiting skills or recruiting experience. Any healthcare volunteer experience helps too. Also, attention to detail is a must. 

What do people like most about being a clinical research associate?

Dan Sfera: No day is the same as the last.  Also, the job offers lots of travel, as well as opportunities to meet with new people. Additionally, clinical research is a relatively stable job, and professionals in this industry are almost always in demand.  

What are the greatest professional challenges for clinical research associates?
Balancing work life balance.  Being on the road 3 out of every 4 weeks.  Extreme workloads.

What is the job outlook (market demand) for clinical research associates?

Dan Sfera: The CRO industry is a growth industry, so they are always hiring, and demand for CRAs is high.

What is the potential career track for a clinical research associate? Are there other roles or promotions a CRA can work toward if s/he would like to advance his/her career?

Dan Sfera: Project manager or clinical trial lead are two roles that offer advancement for clinical research associates.

Dan manages a video blog and advice column for those who are seeking to work in the clinical research field. You can learn more about this career on his website, and in his article about breaking into the field of clinical research

Additionally, there are several professional associations that offer learning opportunities, industry news and resources, and networking avenues for clinical research professionals:

Association of Clinical Research Professionals

Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA)

Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS)

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