How Do I Become a Clinical Research Administrator?

Research what it takes to become a clinical research administrator. Learn about education requirements, job duties, salary and job outlook 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 Administrator?

Clinical research administrators are also known as clinical research coordinators, clinical trial managers and clinical program managers. They are responsible for the planning and coordination of medical research projects and clinical trials. They make sure that all collaborating scientists know their roles, that funds are allocated appropriately and that all experiments comply with regulatory standards. For clinical trials, they may be involved in patient recruitment and drug dispensation. During the study itself, they may collect results as they come in and organize them so that they are accessible to the scientists for evaluation and analysis.

Consider the information in the following table to determine if this career is right for you.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree; master's degree or doctorate may also be required
Education Fields of Study Medicine and dentistry, administration and management, mathematics
Certification Clinical Research Assistant (CRA), Clinical Research Coordinator (CRC), Physician Investigator (PI), Professional Certificate in Clinical Trials Design and Management
Key Skills Active listening, coordination, reading comprehension, writing and speaking skills
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% for all natural sciences managers*
Median Salary (2017) $47,838**

Source: *U.S. Bureau Labor of Statistics, **

What Would I Do As a Clinical Research Administrator?

Clinical research administrators may oversee different types of scientists, including biologists, chemists and physicists, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and they may be directly involved with testing and quality control. Other duties might include determining budgets, providing training, ordering equipment, monitoring projects and evaluating staff. They may also determine protocols and work in conjunction with department heads and other executives on research and development, method analysis and other critical aspects of a research project.

Do I Need a Degree?

If you currently have a bachelor's degree in science or a related field, such as engineering, the BLS indicates you may want to consider obtaining a Master of Business Administration. In general, you'll be able to focus on a specific area of interest. These programs tend to consist of two or more years of study, and in some cases, you may be able to find an accelerated program.

Another program of interest may be the Master's Degree Program in Clinical Research. The purpose of this program is to further enhance your practical knowledge of research methods for direct application. In order to qualify for programs such as this, you would usually need to be currently enrolled or have completed medical, dental or pharmacy school. These 2-year programs tend to provide coursework in epidemiology, bio-statistical methods, medical computer information systems and molecular methods.

The BLS indicates you'll probably need a doctorate. However, since you'll need relevant work experience before becoming a clinical research administrator, it's possible to be appointed to lead a project after you've worked in the field.

What About Certifications?

Some universities may have clinical trial administration certification programs available through their extension programs. You may want to explore certification programs, such as the Professional Certificate in Clinical Trials Design and Management program. This type of program may be available in either a traditional classroom or online setting.

You may also be interested in exploring organizations such as the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA) for more information. According to SOCRA, a clinical research professional may be a medical doctor, a registered nurse or a biologist. In some cases, clinical research professionals may also have a background in business administration, medical technology or statistics.

Another organization you may find of interest is the Association of Clinical Research Professionals, (ACRP) which administers the Clinical Research Associate (CRA), Clinical Research Coordinator (CRC) and Physician Investigator (PI) exams. In order to qualify for these exams, you'll need to be a member and complete educational and experience requirements.

What Are the Certification Requirements?

If you're interested in becoming a CRA, the ACRP states you would be employed by the study's sponsor rather than by the institution where the research is conducted. While your actual job title may vary, your primary responsibilities would be to administer and monitor the study for the sponsor.

There are three options to qualify for the CRA certification exam, according to ACRP. Option one includes the minimum of a bachelor's degree or registered nurse status as well as a minimum of 3,000 hours of experience. Option two includes an associate's degree with a minimum of 4,500 hours of experience. Option three includes training as a medical assistant, lab technician or a high school diploma with 6,000 hours of experience.

If you're interested in obtaining CRC certification, the ACRP states you would work for a study's principal investigator. While your specific job title may vary, you would likely assist the principal investigator with ensuring that Good Clinical Practice Guidelines are being maintained.

To qualify for the CRC certification exam, the ACRP states there are two options. For the first option, your minimum education requirements include an associate's degree, bachelor's degree or RN status with a minimum of 3,000 hours of experience. The second option would require you to have the minimum education of a licensed practical nurse or vocational nurse, or a high school diploma combined with 4,500 hours of experience.

If you're interested in becoming a physician investigator (PI), the ACRP indicates you may be the primary investigator, sub-investigator or co-investigator for a clinical trial. In this capacity, you might be involved with designing, monitoring or supervising the trial. You may also be responsible for ensuring the trial adheres to both ethical and safety guidelines.

To qualify for the PI certification exam, according to ACRP, you would need a medical degree or its equivalent, such as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery diploma from another country. You would also need a state license and a minimum of two years of documented experience. The written exam measures areas of core knowledge that include safety protocols, trial management, oversight and investigatory product management.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are looking for a supervisory position within the medical field, you might want to consider a job as a health services manager. Instead of coordinating a research project, you would be responsible for coordinating operations within a medical facility or hospital department. For this job, you would need a bachelor's degree, along with healthcare-related experience. Alternatively, if you want to be directly involved in basic science research rather than organizing clinical studies, you could think about becoming a biochemist. You could get an entry-level tech job with a bachelor's degree alone, but a master's or doctoral degree is needed for independent research jobs and supervisory positions within a lab.

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