How Do I Get Started in Clinical Research?
“How do I get started in the clinical research field?”
It’s a question that the staff and volunteer leadership of ACRP often hear from those who are seeking guidance on securing their first job in clinical research. As in many other professions, prior experience is commonly expected; but how can you get experience if nobody wants to hire you?
There is no one right answer to this question, as there are many ways to enter the field. However, be prepared to start at an entry-level position. Any background you may already have related to science, medicine, and/or clinical practice is useful, but for clinical research, you will need to learn and master whole new set of processes based on regulatory requirements before moving up the career ladder.
ACRP presented a free Webinar on March 9, 2012 on “How to Enter the Clinical Research Enterprise.” You can access the free on-demand Webinar playback by clicking the button below.
Meanwhile, here are some suggestions on how to successfully land your first clinical research job:
Learn about the “landscape” of clinical research by taking introductory courses, attending reputable certificate programs, earning your ACRP Certification, or even by earning a master’s degree in clinical research, project management, regulatory affairs, medical writing, or business topics emphasizing the conduct of clinical trials.
Don’t limit your focus to just the duties of:
- Clinical Research Associates (CRA)—monitors of studies remotely or traveling to research sites for the companies that sponsor clinical trials, or for the contract research organizations to which the sponsors outsource such duties, or;
- Clinical Research Coordinators (CRC)—conducts investigator delegated tasks related to the studies for the sponsors at individual research sites;
You might also become qualified to work as a data manager, subject recruiter, research billing officer, compliance manager, or other specialist.
Many university-based online, classroom, or blended certificate programs are available. ACRP offers a “Fundamentals of Clinical Research” course that provides a thorough introduction to the field of research (including such topics as the drug development cycle, study design, good clinical practice, research ethics, U.S. and international regulatory requirements, investigational product accountability management, and the entry-level expectations for CRAs/CRCs/PIs).
Starting in June 2012 ACRP will offer:
- Two courses related to GCP for members only, namely ”Introduction to ICH GCP” and “ICH GCP Advanced”(Good Clinical Practice – the global guideline on the conduct of clinical research)
- A course related to Ethics for members only, “Ethical Considerations for Clinical Researchers”.
- A course focused on the preparation for certification
Starting in January 2013 ACRP will offer:
- ”Project Management for Clinical Researchers” courses that are very useful to entry-level clinical researchers.
Many third-party and university-based online, classroom, or blended certificate programs are also available.
List any of these professional development accomplishments as being “in progress” or “completed” at the top of your updated resume/CV and keep records of them in a personal training file that can be shared with prospective employers.
Network by joining professional organizations like ACRP and actively participating in online and local opportunities to meet and learn from established professionals. ACRP’s Chapter Affiliates around the globe often hold events that are ideal for this and many of them can be attended by non-members.
Volunteer locally after exploring the avenues that are available in your area to get exposure to clinical research and its professionals and then decide which one is right for you. The possibilities include:
- ACRP Chapters or the chapters/special interest groups/regional events of other organizations tied to medicine and/or the clinical research field (e.g., the Association of Women in Science, the Regulatory Affairs Professional Society, the Association of Clinical Research Organizations, the International Association of Clinical Research Nurses, the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation, the Society for Clinical Trials, etc)
- Hospitals/medical centers (e.g., in patient resource libraries that offer patients help with researching medical information)
- Public health departments, churches, patient advocacy groups, assisted living/retirement homes (example.g., helping with health fairs, localized studies/surveys/screenings, or fundraising)
- Institutional review boards/research ethics committees (tasked with the oversight of studies involving human subjects at their institutions, these groups typically include a member from the local community and/or a nonscientist in addition to medical professionals)
Look for opportunities like formal internships with medical centers, local biotechnology, medical device, and/or pharmaceutical firms, vendors of services to clinical researchers, or the regional offices of large contract research organizations. Some internships based within firms may offer academic credits with partnering universities.
Apply first for such basic entry-level positions as a project assistant or a data manager at a clinical research site. As we said, starting low on the ladder is usually a must when you have no experience.
Once you are “in the arena,” initiate informational interviews/lunch meetings with and/or “shadow” professionals who are doing the kind of work in which you are interested, attend research project meetings as an observer where this is allowed, help with study-related clerical duties, and otherwise find ways to “rub shoulders” with those who may later be a reference or hiring manager.
Plan on getting certified through ACRP once you have two (2) years of experience, and on maintaining your Certification through continuing training involvement with our Professional Development offerings.
Keep an open mind. In this economy, any job in the target area and on the overall career path for clinical research can be a good one for building your track record of time spent learning new skills which, together with your accomplishments, should be listed on your resume/CV.
Other important skills or behaviors to develop as needed and highlight in your personal training file include:
- Communication skills
- Time management skills
- Project management skills, including organizational skills
- Change management skills
- Good documentation skills
- Ability to assess and comprehend a situation
- Flexibility, adaptability
- Good team player
- Conflict management skills
- Budget negotiation skills
- Being process oriented
- Ability to recognize and appreciate with cultural differences
- Being detail oriented, analytical
- Being innovative and creative
- Good mastery of the English language
- Being trustworthy
- Being patient (having good “coping skills”)
- Critical thinking skills
- Accepting and seeking challenges
- Technical (computer, social media) skills
- Willingness to travel (for CRAs, not for in-house CRAs who conduct distant monitoring)
- Business skills (strategic thinking)
Some other useful links include:
If you have any further questions about how to start your career in the clinical research field, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.