I have been involved in clinical research for 8 years in total, and 6 years as a CRA. I am now a Senior CRA. My work experience in becoming a CRA to Senior CRA includes:
- 1 year- In-house Clinical Research Coordinator– Largest(top 5) Medical Device Company- Cardiology
- 1 year- Clinical Research Coordinator- Top Research/ Teaching Hospital (Ivy league Affiliated Harvard*)- Therapy- Oncology
- 2.5 years- CRA I- Smaller CRO- (year 1 in-house/ 1.5 home based)- Therapy 90% Travel- 60-80 hours a week- CRO’s use you but you also use them for the training/ experience. Advise: Once you gain the experience, GET OUT! They chew you up and spit you out.
- 2 years- CRA II- Large CRO- (Regional/ home based- started to get lonely working from home at this point)- Oncology- 80% Travel- Became physically ill at the end of my two years due to the pressure and workload and left the company and therapy all together.
- 2 years- present position- Senior/ Lead CRA- In-house/ regional CRA- Sponsor/ Medical Device company (start-up)- 50% travel- Management responsibilities on top of monitoring/ site management.
Professional advice when starting out as a CRA
Things to consider before jumping into this field: Hands on experience is key, working in a clinic will help you more than any class you take. Seeing how things work internally at a clinic/ hospital will help you manage your sites efficiently and gain you the study coordinators respect. A class will help you with GCP/ regulations, but you should also find a CRA who is willing to mentor you in organization and show you their monitoring tools. I still learn from other CRAs by observing their style and then incorporating them into my style (you will develop your own style as you go to see what works for you to make you as efficient as possible. Your first year as a CRA is going to be a grind, they are going to send you all over the country and possibly to every armpit of the United states that other high level CRAs do not want to go due to the location (a site that maybe 2-3 hours away from an airport or a site that requires 2-3 connections). I was located in Boston and was assigned all of California, so I was home 1-2 weekends a month and traveling the rest of the time.
Remember: the more work you do on the road, the less work you do in your home office and the more time you have with your friends and family.
Hands on experience is the key
I do love clinical research, I find cutting edge technology and working with sites and pushing treatments to the market for patients so fulfilling. With that said, I was 24 when I first became a CRA, and I was not able to hold a relationship for the first 2.5 years, due to the amount of travel (I was just never home). If you are a women and have kids this is NOT a job for you, my mother ended up adopting my dog due to my travel schedule. The high I moved up the better site locations I was assigned and my travels were cut down significantly.
There are CRA jobs at CRO’s that will keep your site assignments within driving distance (or if you are managing phase I trials you are assigned only a few sites, but you are there every week or so due to dose escalation in a terminally ill patient population) but you are also required to manage 8-10 protocols within all different therapies (which i find crazy, since there is no way you can be a master of that many protocols in multiple therapies unless they are extremely easy therapies which are in my opinion soooo boring.
Would I choose a different career path?
In my opinion, I would choose a different career path than a CRA. Many of my friends find my job sexy due to the traveling everywhere, but it is anything but that. We are budgeted to stay at low end Marriott’s not the JW or Four Seasons. Time zone changes when heading east are the worse, along with waking up in a low end hotel room (or your own bed) and not knowing where you are or what state you are in. It’s a hard grinding occupation until you find the industry (pharma vs. device)/ therapy/ company that works for you, then it get easier as you develop your skills.
Balancing work and life is still a challenge for me, I am not able to join any groups or take any fun classes (always wanted to take tennis lessons)since you are not able to commit due to your ever changing travel scheduled. I find sticking to a any kind of routine to be very difficult, e.g. going to the gym. Also, be prepared for what we all call the “CRA I 15”. We all gained about 15 lbs in our first year due to learning the ropes on how to eat out and pay close attention to how many calories are really in the food you eat. This is really hard since a lot of your meals will be on the go and airport food rarely offers nutritional options. By year two you will learn the ropes and instead of dinning out, I make a salad at Whole foods.
End note: CRAs have the capability of making six figure salaries after about 6-8 years experience. Also, you earn a large number of flyer miles and hotel points through your travels, which allows you to enjoy multiple luxurious vacations. That’s a great bonus!
Choosing the best therapy area
Oncology CRAs are the elite group of CRAs and highest paid, but be prepared to work hard for your money. They are also more marketable. With oncology experience employers from all therapies will hire you, due to oncology being so complex. You will be capable of taking on any therapy with a short learning curve. Every other therapy will seem like a piece of cake.You typically are not given the opportunity to work on an oncology trial until you are a CRA II level and I would not recommend it until you have a solid monitoring background. I was thrown into it as a CRA I and struggled but pushed through it even with coordinator experience, trying to grasp the concepts of monitoring and the fast past/ pressure to perform as a CRA II/ Senior CRA level. *If you choose to become an oncology CRA, have experience in a second therapy (Device is great compliment to be more versatile)so you are able to take breaks from the grind of oncology.
This is my experience, I cannot say I totally regret my decision but anyone that asks me about transitioning into the CRA role I tell them to consider the effect it will have on your personal life, because being a CRA is not just a job, it’s a life style. So if 9-5 is more your speed, this is not the path for you.