How Can I Become a Clinical Research Associate (CRA)?

Research what it takes to become a clinical research associate. Learn about the educational and certification requirements, job duties and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Clinical Laboratory Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Clinical Research Associate?

Clinical research associates (CRAs) are responsible for planning and coordinating clinical trials. Throughout the trial, they provide technical assistance for experiments, collect results and make sure that scientists remain in compliance with regulatory standards. Once the trial is over, they may also be involved in presenting the results to the public in a useful, understandable way. Jobs for clinical research associates are available in both office and laboratory settings. The table below presents information for this career:

Degree Required Bachelor's or master's degree
Education Field of Study Clinical research or related field
Key Responsibilities Help to design & implement research trials, screen test subjects, train staff, monitor progress, maintain databases & presenting findings
Certification Voluntary certifications from the Association of Clinical Research Professionals
Job Growth (2014-24) 3%* (natural science managers)
Median Salary (2017) $61,932**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Would I Do as a Clinical Research Associate?

Clinical trials are the method by which new pharmaceuticals and medicinal treatments are developed, and clinical research associates are an integral part of that process. As a clinical research associate, you would work with a team to design and implement research trials to test the effectiveness of proposed medicines on humans. You could be responsible for many aspects of clinical trials, including screening test subjects, training staff, monitoring progress, maintaining databases and presenting findings. You need to have a strong science and math knowledge base in addition to excellent communication skills to succeed in this profession.

What Education Do I Need?

Clinical research associates come from a variety of backgrounds; you could enter the field with a bachelor's or master's degree in one of the life sciences or in a health-related field, or you could come from a nursing background as a Registered Nurse (RN). Increasingly, there are degree programs specifically for students interested in entering the clinical research field at the certificate level and bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. Undergraduate and graduate degree programs in clinical research offer courses in research methodologies, ethics and team management. Completion of a degree program may prepare you to seek voluntary certification in the clinical research field.

Do I Need to Be Certified?

Though you don't need to be certified to work in clinical research, you may choose to seek certain designations after gaining some training and experience in the field. The Association of Clinical Research Professionals offers the Clinical Research Associate (CRA) credential (www.acrpnet.org). You can be eligible to take the CRA certification examination with one of three combinations of education and experience, including a high school diploma and 6,000 hours of experience; an associate's degree and 4,500 hours of experience; or a master's, bachelor's or RN degree and 3,000 hours of clinical research experience.

The Society of Clinical Research Associates (SCRA) offers a certification program leading to the Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP) credential (www.socra.org). Eligibility requirements include SCRA membership and a combination of education and experience that is similar to what is needed to take the CRA exam.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you want to utilize your coordination and communication skills within the medical field, you might also think about becoming a health services manager. In this job, you would organize and supervise the operations of a medical facility or a hospital department. You usually need to get a bachelor's degree for this job. Alternatively, if you are more interested in basic science than clinical trials, you could pursue a career as a biochemist. Research positions in the field are available for both bachelor's and master's degree-holders, although it is important to note that some jobs also require a doctoral degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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