Clinical research associates (CRAs) are healthcare professionals who are responsible for ensuring quality clinical research procedures. Typically trained in the life sciences, CRAs work to facilitate and monitor a number of clinical trials, working to maintain scientific validity. Their objective is to identify potential risks, benefits, side effects, and effectiveness of current and new medications and healthcare devices.
Why Become A Clinical Research Associate
To complete their job, they perform a number of tasks, which include creating and monitoring research designs and protocols; locating and establishing research settings; coordinating work between healthcare and pharmaceutical professionals; maintaining ethical standards; providing statistical findings to relevant professionals; and ensuring all trials meet scientific standards for replication.
CRAs must exhibit certain qualities in order to provide reliable and unblemished work:
Strict adherence to guidelines
Aptitude for life sciences
Knowledgeable of healthcare system
Awareness of potential consequences
Clinical Research Associate Work Environment
CRAs work in a variety of settings which depend upon clinical trial and type of employment. Some CRAs specialize by working in one field, while others may delve into diverse topics from one trial to the next. CRAs spend much of their time traveling among clients, study staff, project managers, and other professionals, and both national and international travel is likely. This occupation is one of solitude and adaptation, so individuals should prepare for this lifestyle. CRAs can be self-employed, or they may work for contracted organizations and pharmaceutical companies.
Clinical Research Associate Salary
It is difficult to identify a general median annual salary for CRAs. Employment of CRAs varies widely, and their salaries depend upon experience, education, certification, employer, project funding, etc. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary in 2014 for medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians was $46,680, although other sources claim median salaries around $62,910.
Clinical Research Associate Career Outlook
Job growth for CRAs will be higher than the average for all other occupations. According to the BLS, the job growth for medical laboratory technologists will be approximately 14 percent from 2014 to 2024, while medical laboratory technicians will see 18 percent growth.
Many factors explain the increased need for CRAs; the public will continue to seek medical solutions to a variety of needs, including diabetes, cancer, genetic abnormalities, and other diagnoses. Along with the aging of the baby boom generation, many will seek ways to improve their quality of life through medications and other equipment. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act and other federal insurance regulations will increase the number of individuals seeking healthcare services.
Clinical Research Associate Degree
Aspiring CRAs must have at least an undergraduate degree in a related field for any entry-level position. Advanced opportunities will most likely require a relevant graduate degree.
Step 1: Complete an undergraduate program. Although most positions will require a bachelor’s degree, it is possible to find employment through completing a clinical laboratory science associate degree program. Hospitals, the military, and vocational/technical schools offer a small number of certificate programs that enable individuals to find entry-level positions as medical laboratory technicians.
The majority of entry-level positions will require individuals to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Relevant fields include nursing, medical sciences, and life sciences. More specific programs exist, such as a medical laboratory scientist degree. Students on this career path should make sure to take courses in biology, microbiology, chemistry, mathematics, and statistics. It is essential to learn about all laboratory protocols and procedures, including safety, management, and efficacy. Students will typically take courses specific to CRA training during their senior year in college.
Step 2: Advance in the field through a graduate degree program. Many administrative and senior-level positions require master’s degrees from their employees. This type of training will allow individuals more administrative experiences, higher salaries, and better opportunities amongst the competition. Recommended master’s degree programs include clinical research and clinical research administration. Various levels of CRA exist: CRA I, CRA II, CRA III, CRA Specialist, and Senior CRA.
Step 3: Obtain required credentials. Licensure and certification standards vary from state to state. It is important that aspiring CRAs research state licensing requirements at The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science. In addition to state requirements, some employers will ask that their employees have certifications in laboratory sciences. Certification programs allow individuals to also specialize. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences provides such certification opportunities.