Discover how to become a clinical research associate

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A clinical research associate is a vital member of any clinical research team as they're responsible for conducting studies according to protocol, monitoring patient safety and gathering data. This means that it is necessary for anyone wishing to work in this role to be highly skilled in the sciences with a deep understanding of clinical research methodology. They also communicate effectively with patients, doctors and other members of the research team in running trials. In this article, we look at how to become a clinical research associate, how much they earn and which skills are necessary.

How to become a clinical research associate

If you're interested in a career in clinical research, then you could consider becoming a clinical research associate (CRA). In this role, you are responsible for conducting clinical trials and helping to ensure that they follow protocol. This can be an extremely rewarding career, and with the right training and experience, you could find yourself working on important medical breakthroughs. Before this though, there are a few things it's necessary to do:

1. Complete an undergraduate degree

The type of undergraduate degree necessary to become a CRA mostly depends on the specific role you aspire to within this field. Typically, a bachelor's degree in a relevant scientific discipline, such as biology or chemistry, is necessary. It's also important that you have some experience working in a laboratory setting, so if you do not already have this, it may be useful to pursue an undergraduate degree that includes a lab component. This can depend on the facilities available at the university where you choose to study.

In preparation for this, universities often ask prospective students for five 9-4 (A*-C) grades at GCSE, with English language, maths and science compulsory. They then look for students who moved on to study biology, chemistry and maths at A-level, though there's room for some variation here depending on the university you're applying to. The average grade requirements to study a biology degree, for example, are A*AA-ABB, though this varies between universities.

Related: A guide to science degrees: courses, careers and salaries

2. Complete a postgraduate degree

A postgraduate degree in life sciences, medical sciences or nursing can prepare you for a CRA job. These professionals are responsible for managing clinical trials and ensuring that they comply with regulations. They also collect and analyse data from these trials. A degree in one of these disciplines gives you the necessary knowledge and skills to carry out this work. You learn about the different stages of clinical trials, how to design and monitor trials and how to analyse data. In addition, you gain experience working with patients and other healthcare professionals.

A graduate requires several things to study for a postgraduate degree in life sciences, medical sciences or nursing. The most important factor is that you have the relevant undergraduate degree for the course, but many courses also require you to have some work experience in the field. The exact specifications vary according to the course you wish to study and the university concerned. You can find out this information online or in prospectuses, but if you're not sure if you meet the entry requirements it's advisable to contact the university.

3. Gain experience in a clinical research setting

When looking to become a CRA, there are various ways in which you can gain experience. One option is to volunteer with a local clinical research organisation. This opportunity typically allows you to learn about how clinical research works and to develop your skills in this area. Another option is to work as a research assistant or technician. This gives you valuable, hands-on experience of working on clinical research projects, which you can highlight to employers during interviews. For example, as a research assistant, you may help professionals conduct clinical studies.

Experience working within other professions is also useful. This is because nurses, for example, have extensive knowledge of the human body and how it works, which is beneficial for working in this role. They also develop strong communication and problem-solving skills, both of which are essential for any CRA. Experience as a pharmacist is also useful, as they're experts in drugs and medicines. They understand how different medications interact with each other and the side effects associated with them. This knowledge is extremely valuable when conducting clinical trials.

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4. Complete the relevant training and certification programmes

The Institute of Clinical Research (ICR) is a global, non-profit organisation that focuses on improving patient outcomes through clinical research. By completing the ICR Certificate and Diploma, you can demonstrate your expertise and increase your chances of securing a position as a CRA. This is because the ICR offers an extensive range of courses and programmes that cover all aspects of clinical research, from study design to data analysis. They do this through a variety of resources, such as webinars and podcasts, that can help you stay up to date with the latest trends in the industry.

This is an example of a qualification that a research associate can continue as they build their career as the ICR membership levels require evidence annually of continued professional development. If looking to work your way through the clinical research ranks, it's important to maintain this qualification, as it shows your determination and passion and increases your chances of promotion.

5. Consider undertaking additional qualifications

To become a CRA, it is helpful to have additional qualifications. The most important consideration is a good understanding of the clinical research process and how it works, which you typically gain through a degree that has a clinical research focus. Other useful qualifications include basic life support training and first aid training in case of an on-the-job emergency. Having these qualifications puts you in a strong position to apply for clinical roles, especially when compared to other applicants. Each employer may have different requirements, so it's important to do your research.

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How much does a CRA earn?

The national average salary for a clinical research associate is £33,677 per year. Your salary can vary depending on your location and experience. For example:

  • Coventry: £54,879 per year

  • Cambridge: £38,384 per year

  • Newcastle upon Tyne: £38,165 per year

  • London: £35,724 per year

  • Oxford: £33,203 per year

Skills necessary to become a CRA

To become a successful CRA, it's helpful to focus on the skills necessary for this role. The time between graduating and finding a job is an ideal time to work on these. During an interview, you can use these to show how dedicated and enthusiastic you are about this type of role. These include:

Written and spoken communication skills

The ability to communicate effectively is a critical skill for any job, but it's especially important for those in clinical research. This is because excellent oral skills allow you to build strong relationships with study participants and colleagues, while also ensuring that you accurately communicate all aspects of the clinical research process. In addition, good written communication skills help you to share information with colleagues and write reports. This is important as a CRA is responsible for ensuring the quality and accuracy of all study data so it's valid in both the present and future.

Organisational skills

CRAs are responsible for the organisation and coordination of clinical trials. This involves working with doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to ensure that they conduct trials safely and efficiently. Good organisational skills are essential for anyone wishing to become a CRA. They also benefit from effective time management skills and the ability to coordinate the activities of a team of professionals. In addition, the ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously and remain calm under pressure is desirable.

The ability to work well within a team

CRAs play a critical role in the clinical research process. They work with sponsors, investigators and study teams to ensure that studies are efficiently conducted according to regulatory requirements. This means that to be successful as a CRA, it's essential to be able to work well within a team. Being able to collaborate effectively with others and communicate openly and honestly is a vital part of the role. Also, the ability to share information and ideas promptly can help to improve the quality of the trials for everyone.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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