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Deciphering the CRC Career Path: Key Skills and Responsibilities

Clinical research is a very exciting and fulfilling career field that impacts the course of patient care. Within the last 20 years, numerous types of career paths within clinical research have emerged, providing multiple opportunities for people with differing skill sets. One of the most common positions is the clinical research coordinator. This person is intimately involved with the daily conduct of clinical research and can be involved with regulatory paperwork, participant visits, sponsor interactions, data collection and entry, and aspects of clinical trial finances.

Background and Education

Commonly (but not necessarily required), this person has a science background at the bachelor or master level. Clinical research coordinators can have the widest variety of backgrounds, from pre-med to previous English schoolteachers. Regardless of your educational training, it is incredibly helpful to have some knowledge of biology and/or physiology, as this will assist with deciphering clinical trial protocols, procedures and interventions. Depending on what area of the country you live in, additional language skills are incredibly helpful. If you have the privilege of being bilingual, consider getting a certification in medical translation/interpretation. This will increase your “curb appeal” to prospective employers. It is also helpful to have some knowledge of what clinical research is and the ethics/regulations guiding them.

Take a little time and do some research of your own. Read the Belmont Report. Read up on Good Clinical Practice (the guidance that informs a lot of clinical research practice). Find some scientific articles on recent clinical research findings to see what is being done in the field.

Skills and Abilities

A clinical research coordinator needs to be able to handle multi-tasking and multiple projects. Ensure that you have skills to manage and organize your schedule and be able to discuss how you handle prioritizing tasks under pressure and deadlines. Being detail-oriented is important. This is not always harmonious with multi-tasking, but both are required for efficiently and compliantly conducting clinical research. Also, communication is critical. A clinical research coordinator is often the liaison between many different parties, including clinical investigators (MDs and/or PhDs), regulatory compliance (e.g. IRB), other research staff, clinic staff and, most importantly, participants. Communicating with each of these groups in a manner they understand is a daily requirement.

Finally, think about what area of research interests you. Passion is key for preventing burnout as well as being effective at your job. Every clinical department conducts research, from psychiatry to pediatrics, rheumatology to cancer. Also recognize that, if you haven’t worked in clinical research before, you may not get a job working with participants right away. You may need to cut your teeth in a data entry or regulatory position. These are great places to start to learn about the technical side of clinical research. You get a lot of in-depth knowledge on what goes into maintaining a study and gain valuable skills in being detail-oriented.

While this isn’t a complete list of requirements and skills, it should cover the basis as you consider your career path.

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