Before medical products and equipment are approved for public use, doctors and other medical professionals submit these items to specific tests to ensure that they work efficiently and that they won’t cause any adverse effects to the people who use them. These tests are called clinical trials, and they’re designed to investigate the effects and the risks of any medical product.
The professionals who do these trials are clinical research associates. They usually work for the companies who produced or manufactured the product, or organizations who want to conduct independent studies.
The clinical research associate is in charge of developing the trial system and protocol (in research parlance: the methodology), set up the lab or the centre that will be the location of the study, verify and collect the data that is used for and collected from the study, and, in the end, write the reports that present the final result of the study. Occasionally, this entails writing formal papers that will be printed in journals or as a release.
Simply put: clinical research associates are involved in every aspect of the clinical trial.
Salary & benefits
Entry level clinical research associates can get £18,000 to £25,000 a year. Mid-level posts can offer a salary of £30,000 to £35,000 a year.
Working hours vary, although overtime, weekend, and holiday work are common.
One problem with this field is the work location. The majority of clinical research associates are hired by pharmaceutical companies, which are usually situated in select areas in the country (specifically, the south of England).
There are, however, field-based positions, wherein the clinical research associate will work in a specific area outside the study centre in order to gather relevant research information – kind of like those Geography fieldtrips at school, but with less japes.
A clinical trial is usually supervised by a head researcher. The clinical research associates merely serve as assistants and minions to this head honcho. Still, a science or medicine-related degree is imperative.
The specific degree requirement depends on the company’s area of interest. It’s safe to say, however, that a decent degree in biology, chemistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, or pharmacology would give you a “clinical” edge.
Relevant postgraduate units are not necessary, but they can be very useful – especially if you’re aiming for a senior level position later on.
One problem that you will face here as a new graduate is the need for professional experience. Clinical trials can be quite technical, so employers will want workers with actual experience in the medical field.
However, those with relevant soft skills stand a good chance without prior professional experience. Relevant soft skills include: wicked mad numeracy skills, self-motivation, anal recording skills and super-articulate communication skills (especially in writing).
Training & progression
External training is common in this field. Although clinical research associates are required to have science or medicine related degrees, the process of clinical trials is very specialized (and not usually taught in universities).
The responsibilities of clinical research associates will increase as they gain more experience and knowledge in their field. Becoming a field-based researcher will allow you to get progressively more involved in specific projects.
Experienced clinical researchers will then be promoted as project managers – a position that is common in pharmaceutical companies, since they constantly need to do clinical trials.