what does a clinical research associate do?

  • job profiles
  • September 10, 2020

Clinical research associates (CRAs) are the point people who plan, organize and run clinical trials to support the development of new drugs in advance of regulatory body approval. The goal? By understanding and weighing the benefits against the risks with new drugs — and doing so in a structured, rigorously controlled way — we can better protect the health and safety of the public at large. Top employers for these clinical trial experts tend to be companies in pharma, life sciences, health sciences and medical devices, together with the clinical contract agencies and research organizations that sometimes play a role in clinical trials and drug development processes.

Perhaps not surprising, in that light, daily responsibilities for most clinical research associates are closely tied to clinical trial lifecycles. Those duties include:

  • acting as the primary point of contact for end-to-end clinical trials, supporting research portfolio activities and staying abreast of the latest clinical research protocols
  • facilitating the work of multidisciplinary teams on a study site
  • managing data, patients and regulatory overseers
  • communicating progress updates, identifying potential challenges and working to proactively overcome them
  • carrying out research related to chemistry, biology and pharmaceuticals
  • adhering to recognized best practices, safety protocols and regulatory guidance across the entire clinical trial lifecycle
  • meeting the commitments, timelines and demands of multiple partners and stakeholders
  • working with diverse data sets, including electronic data and other health records
  • building strategic partnerships
  • consistently meeting objectives and goals

what are the key skills of a clinical research associate?

Clinical research associates are an essential component of the development (R&D) function at cutting-edge pharma and life sciences companies today — and bear in mind, a ton of interpersonal interaction is baked into the role. As a result, some of the soft skills that might be key differentiators for aspiring clinical research associates include:

  • cross-functional and multidisciplinary relationship management
  • experience managing and reporting on projects
  • attentiveness to detail
  • organizational and time-management aptitudes
  • core business aptitude and orientation
  • strong written, verbal and presentation skills
  • demonstrated analytical thinking and problem-solving capabilities

how much do clinical research associates make?

Based on the latest data, average salaries for clinical research associates appear to essentially fall into three tiers — low, middle and high — depending on your location, market, responsibilities and relative level of expertise. Those tiers are as follows:

  • low $56,952
  • mid $111,870
  • high $144,414

As you can see, salaries for clinical research associates can vary considerably. Trying to get a handle on exactly how much your expertise is worth? Check out our free salary comparison tool. It’ll help you uncover at-a-glance insights about pay in your market.

how do you become a clinical research associate?

Becoming a clinical research associate won’t happen overnight. But with a little preparation — and perhaps an online certification or training course to enhance your skill set — this dream role can be well within reach.

Key qualifications typically include:

  • a high school diploma or GED
  • between two and fours years of previous experience as part of a clinical trial research team
  • proficiency managing protocols, handling data audits and supporting regulatory approvals
  • certification in Good Clinical Practice (GCP) and Human Subjects Protection (HSP) often required
  • familiarity with Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems
  • high-level computer skills, including proficiency in Microsoft Office and other software programs
  • experience with database management queries and reporting
  • familiarity with data-collection processes

Afraid you might not have it made based on the above criteria? Not to worry. Check out online resources like the top courses in clinical research on Udemy, our learning partner. That should help you build up your skill set, and it’s a smart way to get your foot in the door, too.

key takeaways

Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve covered so far:

  • what clinical research associates do
  • background, training, experience and other requirements for this position
  • key skills
  • salary
  • and more!

If becoming a clinical research associate is going to mark the start of the exciting next chapter in your career, we're thrilled to hear it — and we hope you know that we’re here to support you in every step of that journey, too. Search for your next role as a clinical research associate with Randstad today.