A career as a clinical research associate (CRA) includes plenty of perks. The job entails rewarding work supporting the development of new drugs, plus frequent travel and a high salary range, from $56,952 on the low end to $111,870 in the middle and $144,414 on the high end, depending on your experience, location and the state of the job market.

The path to a CRA job isn’t always straightforward; however, here are a few tips to set you on your way.

what does a clinical research associate do?

Clinical trials are essential for proving the success and efficacy of a drug before it can be approved by a regulatory body like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Clinical research associates (CRA) work as part of a team led by a clinical study manager (CSM) or clinical trial manager (CTM), who are responsible for managing the clinical trial on behalf of the sponsor. The CSM or CTM sets the budget and organizational strategy, while the CRA focuses on data, accuracy and quality control at the clinical site level. During a trial, the CRA conducts regular visits — virtually and physically — to ensure good progress and record-keeping at the clinical site.

With this in mind, a good CRA will have excellent interpersonal skills, project management experience and attentiveness to detail.

how do I get a job as a clinical research associate?

Because a CRA position can be a fairly complex role, finding an entry-level position typically requires some leg work. One of the most common ways to break into the profession is to start as a clinical trial assistant (CTA) or clinical research coordinator (CRC). A research assistant primarily gathers and analyzes data for the study, while the CRC is responsible for recruiting and enrolling patients for the clinical trial and oversees much of the daily operations of the trial.

what are the education requirements?

A CRA position often requires an associate or bachelor’s degree in a science, health or bio-medicine field. CRC jobs require a bachelor’s degree, and some employers prefer candidates with a master’s degree. 

For CRA and CRC jobs, there is also the certification route through the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) or the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA). This  entails a combination of a degree and a certain number of working hours in the clinical research field before you are eligible to take a certification exam.

You can also boost your eligibility by enrolling in clinical research courses with online providers like Udemy or by pursuing a clinical research management certificate through your local university.

where do you look for clinical research associate jobs?

Pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers and contract research organizations (CROs) are the most common employers of clinical research associates. If you’re looking for an entry-level position, your best bet is to focus on larger companies, which not only have more opportunities available but are also more likely to hire less-experienced candidates.

Randstad USA has lots of clinical research positions listed, too, of course. Check out our job board to find great opportunities wherever you may be.