If you’re a hiring manager or HR professional in the pharmaceutical industry, you may be called upon to recruit clinical research associates (CRAs). Especially if a large grant comes through that will require an increase in staffing. But it’s not necessarily as straightforward as hiring, say, a bookkeeper. Excellent CRAs may arrive with different qualifications, skills mixes, and work experiences.
The right CRA for your organization may need a very specific skills mix.
The specific qualifications you’ll want to focus on will depend on the specific nature of the clinical research you’re hiring for. For some CRA positions, someone with a nursing degree and hospital experience may be the best fit. For others, someone with a pharmacy degree and industry experience may be right. Here’s some information about typical qualifications for CRAs, what they generally do on the job, and what non-clinical skills you should look for when hiring.
Typical Qualifications for Clinical Research Associates
At minimum, clinical research associates tend to have an undergraduate degree in one of the life sciences, nursing, or in one of the medical sciences (such as physiology, immunology, or pharmacy). Some clinical research positions require higher qualifications, such as a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, or a doctorate in one of the life sciences.
Experience is generally gained by working in research labs, clinical settings, pharmaceutical sales, or for pharmaceutical manufacturers. Often, CRAs find jobs through specialist recruiters, or through technical and scientific journals in fields related to their qualifications.
Responsibilities Common to Clinical Research Associates
A clinical research project may require multiple types of CRAs doing different tasks, but usually their responsibilities will include things like:
- Writing protocols for clinical trials
- Working with and instructing clinicians involved in the trials
- Setting up trial study centers
- Collecting and organizing trial data
- Monitoring progress of clinical trials
- Writing technical papers and reports about trial outcomes
Depending on the specifics of a clinical trial, CRAs may have responsibilities that directly involve patients, or they may exclusively work in a laboratory setting or spend most of their time with a computer doing analysis.
Key Skills to Look for in Job Candidates
Extraordinary CRAs have skills beyond what’s on their transcript.
Of course, having the qualifications on paper to be a CRA isn’t always sufficient for you to hire someone. You’ll want someone who fits in well with your overall company culture, and who has excellent communications skills. Most CRAs need math skills and an inquisitive, logical mind as well. Since clinical research involves the collection and analysis of sometimes large amounts of data, you want CRAs with initiative, who have outstanding organizational abilities. If you’re a pharmaceutical company, it helps to have CRAs with good commercial awareness of both your company and the industry overall.
Other Organizations that Hire Them
Who else is trying to hire the people you want to bring on as CRAs? Academic hospitals often have departments devoted to clinical research and hire CRAs, as do medical device companies, and companies that contract with clinical researchers. The perfect CRA may be working in a university research lab on highly specialized subject matter that meshes with what your company is trying to do. What all this means is that it’s not always easy to find great CRAs, at least not without help. Many pharmaceutical companies looking for CRAs turn to specialist recruiters with strong networks to help them.
Effectively Competing for Outstanding Talent
Though hiring managers have a tremendous amount of responsibility, they may not always have access to the networks that include top CRA talent. One great thing about specialist recruiters is that over the years, they develop networks that let them know exactly where to look when a particular hiring need arises. A top recruiter also has the connections to be able to reach out to coveted “passive” job seekers, who are already employed, but who may be open to a new opportunity. Passive job candidates can be extraordinarily hard to locate, particularly for a hiring manager who may not have access to wide-ranging networks of people qualified to be CRAs.
Working with a specialty recruiter not only opens up access to networks you may not otherwise have been able to tap, it can provide valuable information on hiring trends and on what you have to be prepared to offer to compete for top talent. A first-rate CRA is invaluable to clinical research, and if you’re ready to start your candidate search, we would be pleased to work with you to build a clinical research team that will move your company forward.