CRAs may work independently for sponsors or through clinical research organizations on-site at hospitals, laboratories, and pharmaceutical institutes. Concentrated clinical research training programs are generally offered at the graduate level, though certificates are also available.
Many clinical research workers, like epidemiologists, usually have a degree in medicine, pharmacology, health information, biology, or nursing. Individuals with a science-centered degree can gain skills in clinical research by pursuing focused training at the graduate certificate or master's degree level. Most employers require clinical research associates to have 2-5 years of experience. Seminars and practicum are vital for this type of training because they provide preparation for clinical research certification exams
Master's Degree Programs in Clinical Research
Clinical research training can often be completed within two years and is typically comprised of a balance of class work, mentorship training and hands-on clinical practice. This graduate degree is often conferred as a Master of Science in Clinical Research Methods. Students learn research, data collection, and analysis methods. They also learn about clinical case and trial management, site safety and security, documentation methods, grant writing, and cost evaluations. Course subjects in these programs could include:
- Data management in research
- Application of legal and regulatory issues
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Certificate Programs in Clinical Research
Graduate certificate programs are also available and generally require less than 20 credits for completion. Clinical research certificate programs underscore research ethics and the statistical analysis of medical data. Students also learn about the correlation between genetics and certain diseases.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), www.bls.gov reports that epidemiologists' job growth rate will be 6% from 2014-2024. The demand from state and local agencies for epidemiologists should be high during this decade. The BLS also stated that the median earnings for an epidemiologist was $69,450, as of May 2014.
Some hiring organizations prefer, if not require, clinical research associates to possess industry certifications, such as the Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP) credential offered by the Society of Clinical Research Associates (www.socra.org). Similarly, the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (www.acrpnet.org) offers a Certified Clinical Research Associate (CCRA) and a Certified Clinical Research Coordinator (CCRC) designation.
In order to qualify for certifications, applicants must typically meet minimum work experience or educational requirements and pass an exam. Continuing education requirements are needed to recertify every 2-3 years, depending on the organization.
Clinical research associates can also earn continuing education credits by attending industry conferences, which often run 3-5 days. Attendees can participate in seminars, listen to guest speakers or attend exhibits. Clinical researchers can gain insight on recruiting, budgeting and research ethics. The Web provides organizational sites that often host discussion forums for professional networking and information exchange. Clinical researchers can also sign up to receive industry newsletters and industry journals.
CRA training can provide students hands-on experience in the clinical research field, preparing them for further certification programs that may be required. This career area is expected to experience mild growth over the next decade.