Anyone who is interested in working in the medical field, but it is uninterested in practicing nursing or medicine, may want to learn about opportunities as a clinical research assistant.
Clinical research assistants are involved in medical or clinical trials and may find work with a research institute, government agency, or pharmaceutical company.
Most working research assistants have at least a bachelor’s degree in a science such as biology, nursing, or psychology, and are predominantly female. An assistant is integral to maintaining the integrity and collecting data on a clinical trial.
A research assistant can expect to do the following on the job.
In addition to having a foundation in life science, clinical research assistants will need to understand and follow clinical practices and assure data is collected correctly, protected, and reported.
A clinical research assistant salary is typically lucrative and is one of the better-paying jobs to have.
Gain CRA Experience
Competition may be fierce when it comes to landing a position as a CRA, so it is critical to amass experience that makes one a prime candidate for hiring. There are more than a few ways one can gain meaningful hands-on experience, to supplement their professional education at an institution.
Site Management Organization
CRA experience can be gained by working at an SMO for one to two years, which helps satisfy the expertise that many CROs or sponsors desire from a candidate.
SMOs are responsible for overseeing and managing trial activities as conducted on a daily basis. SMOs fill the gaps for sites that do not have dedicated research coordinator.
Mostly Asian countries use SMOs, so it may be a lesser known opportunity to gain international work experience and learn about the challenges faced by clinical research sites. The United States does not offer as many opportunities to work at an SMO, and there may only be set regional locations where an SMO is available.
Volunteer at a Hospital
Signing up to volunteer at a hospital to serve the needs of patients, once you have passed health inspections and a background check can build clinical experience. Working with doctors and nurses, you gain hands-on knowledge. Working closely with patients, such as transferring them to services, helps improve people skills.
Spending three to four months is a modest amount of time to display relevant experience.
Helping doctors who want to conduct more research, but are strapped for time is a great way to gain clinical experience. Offering yourself up as a research volunteer to a doctor working in a specific field of medicine is a win-win situation.
Doctors will appreciate having some time freed up to catch up on reviewing medical charts, analyzing clinical data, or writing up protocol. Research volunteers can get hands-on experience while at the hospital alongside a doctor and can complete a research paper that will enhance a resume and future job prospects.
Doing some research on doctors of interest, sending out emails, and conducting in-person interviews may be required to gain the experience needed to stand out to recruiters for CRA positions.
Intern at a Government Agency
Being dedicated to following proper protocol, learning about patient safety, and understanding health care regulation in-depth can be gained from working at a government agency.
As an intern, the position is most likely unpaid or only compensated with a small stipend. Internship experience is highly valued by recruiters and hiring managers.
CRA candidates looking for meaningful experience should consider the following organizations for opportunities.
Landing an internship may require having citizenship status for the country in which an organization is located, but some students can get an internship with a visa, or despite being a non-citizen. Research experience can also be gained by volunteering at government agencies instead of being an intern.
Work at a Healthcare Startup
Seeking out clinical experience doesn’t only take place at large Fortune 500 companies. Small and mid-size companies need great people too.
Working at a small healthcare startup exposes you to medical products or services, and provides plenty of opportunities to fill different roles as needed by a company. Learning to take the leap and be a problem solver, executing ideas and showing proven results can help boost a career.
Where a startup may lack in cash and resources, your passion and drive can help secure a future part-time or full-time position within a company. Startups are lesser known, so there is less competition to get your foot in the door.
Workers at a startup may be expected to ship items, conduct trials, visit various locations, and learn hands-on information that is beneficial for a CRA position.
There is the risk that you might work on non-clinical assignments, and you will have to do some footwork to contact resources and people to get a position. Payment may or may not be guaranteed, depending on your negotiation skills.
Work at a Clinical Research Site
Working at a clinical research site is a bit like being a volunteer at a hospital. Sites may be a part of a large hospital network or an independent office. Patients come to the place to be seen by research coordinators and site investigators.
There is a need for workers who can help with enrolling trial patients, perform data entry, review charts, maintain records, or monitor activities.
Working at a clinical research site is a great way to amass experience, and potentially move up from working as a CRA or CRC. This environment provides one of the best opportunities to understand the demands of a clinical research site, work with sponsors, and perhaps secure a full-time position.
An internship at a clinical research site may pay less than other places and may require executing tasks that do not involve working directly with patients. Opportunities can be found by contacting hospitals or medical schools that may be engaged in active clinical trials, or searching through networks online.
Individuals with an aptitude for analyzing data have solid communication skills, and process information well may enjoy work as a CRA.
Most employers expect a CRA to have a bachelor’s degree at a minimum, or have certification as an M.D. or RN. A bachelor’s degree that is in a specific field like biotechnology, psychology, or biology is welcome, as a foundation in the life sciences or social science is helpful for the career path.
Research assistants should have a working knowledge of the technology used during a trial, subject research, and proper clinical procedures. Experience working in a laboratory and conducting tests, collecting samples, and being held accountable for data is paramount.
The average clinical research assistant salary provides a comfortable amount of income, and with the projection for growth, is a safe career choice.
Soft skills are also valuable to working as a CRA. Candidates should be able to demonstrate empathy, awareness, negotiation skills, and active listening.
It would be advisable for anyone interested in working as a CRA to get meaningful certifications to stay competitive. The Association of Clinical Research Professionals, or ACRP, offers a certification exam.
Applicants for the certification exam must already have a cumulative of 3,000 to 6,000 hours performing CRA duties. Depending if an applicant has a bachelor’s degree, LPN, LVN, RN, or Associate’s degree, they may require more working hours under their belt.
The Society of Clinical Research Assistants is another professional organization that CRAs can trust when seeking out further training or certification.
CRAs need to have monitoring experience, lab experience, and excellent communication skills to work with patients and staff conducting a trial. There is work available with both larger desirable organizations, and smaller hospitals or mid-size companies who need a CRA.
The job growth rate for CRAs is expected to increase by 16% through 2024.
The lowest salary for a clinical research assistant is around $40,000. However, some CRAs may earn a salary between $95,000 to over $125,000 annually. The median salary for a clinical research assistant is about $60,000.
Clinical research assistant salary is lucrative because the position demands well-educated professionals, who can assist with the following for the medical industry.
Clinical research assistants are hired by all sorts of entities, so they must have a bachelor’s degree and good clinical protocol training. A clinical research organization looks for assistants. Interested clinical research assistants should look for a workplace with the opportunity to be promoted, in-house training, and know what studies in which they will be involved.
The workload can be extreme, with extensive hours spent on the field traveling. Research assistants should demonstrate excellent patient recruitment skills and superior attention to detail.