It’s not impossible to get into a CRA role straight out of college. Some sponsors and contract research organizations (CROs) may recruit recent graduates with the necessary traits and skills. However, most employers will require some relevant prior experience for a CRA role.
Similar to many other career fields, experience is the key to obtaining a CRA position. My own career path started with a bachelor of science in engineering. I worked in an academic research lab for 6 years after college before switching to a clinical research coordinator (CRC) role at a hospital for 3 years. From there, I transitioned into a clinical research associate (CRA) role at a sponsor company, an in vitro diagnostic device manufacturer, for 3.5 years. I then progressed into my current position overseeing clinical trial management at a non-profit drug company. Switching job had helped me gain experience and pushed me to develop new skills. In addition, every new position was an increase in responsibilities, job title, and compensation.
What if you don’t have prior experience?
This question came up when I switched my career path from working in an academic research lab to working in clinical research. It also came up again and again as I changed jobs into roles with greater responsibilities. The key to conquer new career path without prior experience are:
- Build on prior applicable skills and knowledge
- Willingness to work hard and start somewhere
These two factors were the reason that helped me transitioned into a clinical research coordinator (CRC) position in an emergency room setting at a hospital. I had applicable skills in science and research when I was in academic lab. The other factor was that I was willing to work at night and on the weekend. In addition, I had to push myself beyond my comfort zone. I was recruiting pediatric patients into clinical trials in emergency setting. Imagine yourself as a parent who brought a really sick child into an emergency room late at night, participating in clinical trial is probably not the first thing on your mind. This pushed me to work hard to succeed. I used the same approach to advance my career into a CRA role and into my current role as a manager.
Different pathways toward a CRA role
Similar to my career path, those without experience can get into clinical research at a lower level. These starting positions may be directly or indirectly applicable to clinical research industry. Once experience has been gained, a clinical research associate (CRA) position can be pursued using the applicable skills and knowledge acquired.
Directly applicable starting positions may include:
- Clinical research coordinator (CRC) role at a clinical site
- Clinical trials associate (CTA) role at a sponsor company
- Nursing role with patient care experience.
Indirectly applicable starting positions may include:
- Pharmacy or medical sales
- Clinical laboratory work
- Clinical data work
- Academic or pharmaceutical research
Clinical Research Training
Although experience is the key toward a CRA position, there are training programs that are offered through colleges and universities as well as online training courses that can help increase the chance for a candidate who looks to get into clinical research. These may include postgraduate degree and certificates in clinical research. The cost and time investment for these training programs should be considered carefully and compared to the pathways listed above for pros and cons. Training may also be done part-time while one work full time in one of the starting positions in clinical research. Specific curriculum will vary from institution to institution. Below are some general areas that a clinical research training program should cover:
- clinical research ethic
- clinical research practice
- clinical trial design
- clinical document writing (study design, protocol, informed consent, case report forms, etc.)
- clinical trial monitoring and management
- risk management
- regulatory requirements
Photo credit: Joshua Tree National Park California, by Graham, flickr
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- CRA Certification
- Education and Skills Needed for a CRA
- Recommended Books
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