A couple of years ago, anyone with a life science degree could get a CRA job, but times have changed. Radically. Today everyone is talking about well hidden “entry-level positions” to get into clinical research. But still in 2015, no one has ever seen a job ad entitled “entry-level position in clinical research”. So whats the catch? Herein I would like to bring you guys fresh perspectives on the industry. In this post we will be discussing how to really become a CRA, even without monitoring experience, and how to improve your chances of getting hired.
Shaun recently sent us the following email:
I have been reading through the many good pieces of advice on your site as I am currently trying to transition from preclinical to clinical research. I have 10 years of preclinical research, 8 of which are in pharma but I have never worked on any clinical trials and have no monitoring experience. I have had one phone interview for an entry level CRA position that was directly related to my area of experience (neuroscience/neurology) but I wasn’t even able to get past the phone interview as I don’t have any clinical experience. I see the consistent advice that the best path to a clinical career is to start out as a CRC but every position I have seen is looking for a nurse! What is one to do to get experience to make the transition when you can’t even get a job as a CRC. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for your question Shaun! To answer it I reached out among all the CRAs in my network, especially the ones that started out as CRCs. Its true that many CRCs have a nursing degree. But, and this is the interesting part, most CRAs that started out as CRCs don’t have a nursing degree. And Im actually not surprised.
Research skills are the most important, but you need clinical skills as well
How Brad managed to become a CRC with only a Masters degree
One of our followers, Brad, was in an interesting position because he “only” had a master’s degree in pharmacology. Despite this, he was able to become a CRC for some studies, and later he advanced to a CRA position. This is his story:
– I began in General Research Methods class as a graduate student. Started off learning the research method during my time in graduate school, told that I had to create my own experimental design and then carry out that experiment, compile the data, write the research manuscript and hopefully get it published. I went through the phases and I was able to do that and successfully got it published.
– Actually, I was a low graduate student and I had zero money, so I simply did it with whatever materials they had at my school. That’s my story. It just shows you don’t need to have lots of money to do good research.
This is very interesting. Actually, when I first spoke to Brad, I had never heard of anyone actually being an investigator of a trial who was not an MD or at least a PhD, but he proves its possible. Anyway, after getting published, Brad was able to put a couple of preclinical studies and publications on his CV. The only thing is that CROs also wanna see clinical studies on your CV. Something that Brad also realized.
– Yeah, that’s very true. After finishing my research, I tried to apply to lots of CRA positions, but didn’t even reach the interviews. I was about to give up, when someone told me to apply for a CRC position instead. And that was when things started to happen. Many companies write that they are looking for someone with a nursing degree for these kind of jobs, but truth is that they often prefer someone with a pre-clinical background. It took some time and hard work, but in the end I actually got several offers.
Just a few years ago CROs, who are the companies that usually hire CRAs, would have hired anyone with a B.S. At least in some science-related, or health-care related background. If you had a master’s degree, your chances were even better. That was a couple of years ago when they went on a hiring spree. Now unfortunately, they actually have much stricter guidelines. Be prepared to have some monitoring experience, as I’ve told you in CRA job shortcuts, or prepare to get hired as a CRC first.
At least two years of study coordinating experience
Some of the CROs that used to hire just about anybody without experience, but with the appropriate college background and education, are not hiring anybody nowadays. You need to have at least two years of coordinating experience and at least the same college background. You need to have science-related background, but now you need to have two years of study coordinating experience, so you can start putting some of these studies on your resume.
How do I get it?
One suggestion is to intern, to find some research clinics in your area and offer them your help, like an “unpaid internship”. What I would recommend, is at least three to six months for this. You’re going to provide a value. I’m a big believer in providing value upfront and then asking for favors later. By offering to work for free at a research clinic, a small to mid-sized clinic that may be in need of help, you are actually building up your CV. You are also positioning yourself because a lot of the people who own these sites or run these research sites, have connections with people in the CRO industry. They will happily return the favor for you in three months, six months or they may like you so much they may actually hire you.
Time to get value for your investment
Then you now have a paid gig. In the past, you may not have been able to get anything. It’s a new economy nowadays. This is the way things are headed, at least for the time being, although everything is cyclical. I really think that this principle of giving value first before you get something back is here to stay. Like it or not. I think that we’ve just recently had a fundamental shift in the economy and I don’t think that’s going to be changing anytime soon.
What is a study coordinator?
At first, study coordinator go by a few different names:
- study coordinator
- clinical research coordinator
- clinical trial coordinator
- or just coordinator
Then they also go by their acronym CRC and things like that. Basically they all perform the same functions. Every clinical trial is going to have a study coordinator. For you as a study participant, you’re going to be interacting with this individual more than anyone else when you join a clinical trial. More than the doctor, and more than the nurses that may be there. The study coordinator is basically going to be your primary point of contact. When you have adverse events, when you have questions, those go through the study coordinator first and then they go get elevated to the principal investigator (PI), which is the doctor.
The study coordinator is basically the backbone of any clinical trial. They are the ones doing everything. They are the ones who may even be giving you the consent form. They may be explaining what the study entails. They might be the ones drawing your blood, doing your vital signs. Of course, the PI, will do a lot of these things too, but your study coordinator is basically your primary contact during the study. You’ll be spending most of your time when you’re at the clinic with the study coordinator. It’s very important that the study coordinator and the study participant have a good working relationship together.
Background and requirements
Study coordinators usually have medical backgrounds. They obviously need to have an interest in medicine or else they’re probably in the wrong profession. Some of them have nursing backgrounds, some of them just Bachelor of Science. There are no real requirements necessary. There’s no law that states that a study coordinator must have a bachelor’s degree or a master’s or nursing. I’ve seen study coordinators who are MDs from other countries. In fact we have a few of these study coordinators at my company. They’re MDs from other countries and in the United States they are study coordinators. Study coordinators can actually get paid quite a bit of money with some years of experience.
There are no strict requirements necessary for a CRC
For those of you who want to learn more about what study coordinators are, maybe you’re considering becoming a study coordinator, it’s a fantastic career. Everyone who works in this industry, they know that they are worth their weight in gold. If you’re a good study coordinator and you can really prove it and you have some experience, you’ve done lots of protocols, you know what you’re doing, you’ll be making good money.
An average salary I think is around 65,000 dollars or even higher. I’ve heard that some are getting even 120.000. A natural progression after being a study coordinator is to become a monitor or a CRA and work directly for the drug companies, everything you need to know about what a study coordinator does and what you need to do.
This post is here to kind of introduce what a study coordinator is, and what are backgrounds usually are. The study coordinators are basically the backbone of the clinical trial. Yes, the principal investigator is responsible for the conduct of the study, but the study coordinator does most of the work. I want to say 80% of the work. They are a very important part of the clinical trial process. Like I said, if you’re considering becoming a study coordinator, it’s an excellent career. You’ll be worth your weight in gold. It’s a lot of work, but it could be very rewarding.
Let me know what you think and let me know
Best of luck to all of you aspiring CRAs out there trying join the amazing world of clinical research!