Sponsors love clinical research coordinators (CRCs) who take responsibility for study start-up, patient recruitment, and data collection at trial sites. However, when it comes to helping CRCs and their professional development, sponsors rarely play any role. The burden of ensuring CRC professional development generally falls on the already-busy principal investigators leading the sites.
In my view, there is an opportunity for sponsors to influence CRC professional development for not only the benefit of CRCs, but also for sponsors and our industry as a whole.
In this article, we’ll review nine reasons sponsors should pay for CRCs to attend conferences (virtual or in-person).
- CRCs are responsible for the majority of trial execution at any site, so investing in their professional development is crucial for long-term success of any research endeavor.
Let me share with you an experience I had on one of my clinical trials.
One of the participating sites had a CRC with zero years of clinical research experience. Yet, she was expected to screen, consent, and enroll eligible patients with little or no guidance. As you can imagine, she had a lot of questions. The main challenge for her was that she had not invested in her professional development and there was nobody who was going to do this for her.
The sponsor was frustrated because recruitment was slow. The site leadership was frustrated because they could not enroll in spite of their best intentions.
- New CRCs can lack the confidence to ask their employers to pay for attending a conference. If a sponsor offers to pay, it becomes an easy “Yes” for site investigator/owners.
If a study budget has a line item for a CRC professional development fee, it becomes an easy “Yes” for the investigator to allow CRCs to attend a conference. It is not uncommon for sponsors to pay for an annual study maintenance fee. Why not increase or utilize this annual fee to pay for CRC training and education?
- CRCs can avoid burnout if they get a break from work to invest in their education.
One thing COVID-19 has taught us is that working remotely and having flexibility about where and how we work is much appreciated. However, most CRCs lack the flexibility of working from home—they need to report to work and be physically present to screen, consent, and enroll study participants.
Getting a break from the day-to-day routine to attend an in-person conference away from the clinic or hospital, or to attend a virtual conference from their home, can go a long way in keeping CRCs happy and motivated.
- CRCs are more likely to stay in their current role if they feel like they are growing and learning.
According to a study conducted by Career Explorer, CRCs rate their career happiness 2.8 out of 5. Another study found that 76% of employees say that a company would be more appealing if it offered additional skills training to its staff.
The data clearly show that employees value professional education and development. By encouraging and supporting CRC participation in conferences, our industry can raise the overall CRC career happiness level.
- Data quality will likely improve as CRCs gain a broader perspective of the industry.
In one study of 252 U.S. research coordinators, approximately 44% reported high emotional exhaustion, a component of burnout.
When CRCs are experiencing burnout, sponsors may notice issues with data quality. Although attending conferences won’t completely eliminate CRC burnout, it can help CRC recharge and improve focus on their jobs. Attending conferences would ultimately have a positive impact on CRC mindset and the quality of data collected during the study.
- Recruitment and retention will likely improve as CRCs learn current best practices from conference attendees.
CRCs can learn from their own patient recruitment and retention failures, but it’s possible to proactively avoid making expensive mistakes or wasting valuable time.
One of the quickest ways to learn from others is at conferences where experienced clinical research professionals are readily sharing their prior experiences and challenges with others. Conferences provide a way for new or less experienced CRCs to learn from others who’ve been through similar clinical trial challenges.
- CRCs will want to go above and beyond in supporting a sponsor who cares about their professional development.
Most CRCs get urgent or last-minute requests from sponsors at some point during their studies. It’s typical for a sponsor to reach out to CRCs with sudden requests such as resolving open queries, submitting protocol amendments to the institutional review board, or sending screening logs for sponsor review.
Now imagine a CRC getting similar urgent requests from five to eight sponsors on a weekly basis. This administrative work piles up quickly in addition to the core CRC responsibilities of screening, consenting, and enrolling trial participants. A kind and caring sponsor who invests in CRC professional development is likely going to benefit from the CRC’s desire to reciprocate with timely responses to this sponsor’s urgent requests.
- It’s not that expensive to fund an CRC to attend a conference when we’re talking about millions of dollars it takes to run a clinical trial.
For example, the cost to attend the most recent ACRP conference as a non-member was $1,199. If you add transportation, hotel, and meals, you’re looking at around $2,500 to $3,000 per attendee. The travel costs can be avoided completely when attending a virtual conference.
Costs for clinical trials can range in the low to high seven figures. In comparison, paying for a CRC’s attendance at a conference is quite affordable. Further, the experience of attending a conference is remarkable and memorable. The benefits are long lasting for the CRCs, their employers, and sponsors.
- It sends a clear message to all clinical research stakeholders that we care about research coordinators (and sites).
As an industry, we’ve been talking about site-centric clinical research for a long time, but our models for site payments have not evolved. Adding a budget line item for CRC professional development could turn out to be one of the most positive changes we can make to the study contracts.
Paying for CRCs’ participation at conferences is a small but significant step to show that the industry cares about CRC professional education and development.
Sponsors pay sites to perform clinical trial services. Instead of thinking of sites as service providers, sponsors can start thinking of sites as research partners. The act of sponsoring a CRC’s participation in a conference is one way for sponsors to show their appreciation of all the work a CRC handles.
Before we start thinking of reasons why this approach will not work, it would be helpful to pilot this approach on a small study. Sponsors conducting studies with less than 10 sites can consider funding CRC attendance to a conference (in-person or virtual). The total investment would be $25,000 or less. Sponsors and sites can develop metrics to measure the impact of such a program.
We won’t know if this approach is effective until we give it a try.
by Guest Contributor Kunal Sampat, MNA, ACRP-CP, Host of the Clinical Trial Podcast