There are certainly benefits to hiring a seasoned professional for a position with significant responsibility. However, a stringent focus on level of experience has hindered clinical research organizations in recent years. The focus on experience has led hiring organizations to turn away capable individuals, particularly for the role of clinical research associate (CRA).
According to a paper published by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP), there were over 10,000 CRA, positions open in the United States in 2015, indicating a significant work shortage for this position. It’s likely this shortage was caused by the seemingly arbitrary, but common practice of requiring two years of professional experience for entry-level CRAs. It’s unproven whether this required experience is really a significant indicator of a CRA or monitor’s ability to perform. This shortage resulted in heavier workloads for many employed CRAs and an increase in employee burnout for research organizations.¹
Evaluating core competencies
During her recent workshop at Forte’s 2018 Fall Onsemble Conference, Workforce Innovation Officer, Beth Harper, led discussions about the competencies necessary for individuals working in clinical research. Workshop attendees came to realize there are a number of key characteristics of a good clinical research employee that go beyond experience in the field, including attitude, teamwork, attention to detail, communication, and a willingness to learn. While these skills can be fostered through on-the-job experience, many of the competencies listed were implicit and not easily taught.
Watch Beth’s free, on-demand webinar, to learn even more workshop takeaways and explore the theory and practice of competency-based approaches for hiring, retaining and helping staff advance.
Focusing on qualities not quantity
It’s evident the research industry could benefit from a shift in focus from required years in the field, to the competencies necessary to excel at the job. Some individuals possess desired qualities of an ideal CRA or monitor, regardless of experience level. Characteristics for the position can include:
In the CRA position, this is characterized as a strong drive to achieve efficiency and quality. A diligent CRA has a sharp focus on their work that helps them to overcome difficulties and succeed in their endeavors.²
The CRA position requires individuals to juggle multiple responsibilities throughout the day. Someone in this position should be able to prioritize and manage daily tasks to stay organized and ensure everything is done in a timely and efficient manner.
When charged with complex tasks and projects, CRAs need to focus not only on the larger picture, but also confirm all elements of the project are accurate. Attention to detail can improve quality and increase the validity of work conducted.²
A genuine interest in clinical research is important to reduce burnout and can help individuals be more productive in the CRA position. Employees that are passionate about specific, or all, aspects of research are often more driven to perform at their best.
Standardizing training practices
Adequate and standardized training is also a necessary step to meeting high industry expectations for CRAs. Individuals with the above qualities are often easy to train and aim to please. With effective training practices in place for new employees, organizations can focus less on an applicant’s experience and more on their potential.
Necessary training for a CRA
ACRP published a Training Guide & Course Catalog for clinical research professionals that outlines best practices for competency-based training. Currently, ACRP’s fundamental competencies include:
- Clinical Trials Operations (GCPs)
- Communication and Teamwork
- Data Management & Informatics
- Ethical & Participant Safety Considerations
- Leadership & Professionalism
- Medicines Development & Regulation
- Scientific Concepts & Research Design
- Study & Site Management
These eight competencies are the cornerstone of every well-rounded research professional. To ensure incoming CRAs understand the above competencies, organizations can develop a training plan, including both external courses and accreditation, as well as internal education from organization staff.
Great CRAs aren’t always the most experienced in the clinical research field. Shifting the industry focus from experience to competencies can influence the way CRAs are hired and trained for the better. Watch this free, on-demand webinar to learn more about competency-based approaches for hiring, retaining and helping your clinical research staff advance.
*This blog post was originally published in February, 2017 and has been edited from it’s original version.