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Clinical trials are an essential component of medical research in which human participants are utilized to advance medical knowledge. These trials can be observational, where a group is simply studied without intervention, or clinical, where an intervention is applied to some or all of the participants. According to the World Health Organization (Global Observatory on Health R&D Jan. 2018), there were 8,260 clinical trials performed in the United States in 2017. Without these trials new treatments, procedures, and medicine wouldn’t reach the market.
Clinical research coordinators are integral to the success of clinical research trials. They help manage much of the administrative work from budgeting, compliance, and reporting, in addition to helping execute the trial itself by obtaining informed consent, administering questionnaires, and screening applicants for eligibility.
Below is an overview of clinical researcher career, including steps to take to obtain a job, education needed, and the licensing requirements.
Clinical Research Coordinator Specializations & Degree Types
Many colleges and universities offer degrees in clinical research both at the bachelor and master’s levels. Roughly 56 percent of professionals in this career hold a bachelors, while 12 percent hold a master’s (O*NET Online “Clinical Research Coordinators” 2019).
There are even associate degree programs in clinical research such as the associate of applied science degree in clinical research at Oklahoma City Community College. Some students will choose to complete their education as a registered nurse (RN) prior to completing a certificate of mastery in clinical research and entering the field. Students who wish to pursue a career in clinical research can also major in a wide variety of health sciences degrees, including biology, public health, and health administration.
Admissions Requirements for Clinical Research Coordinator Programs
Clinical research coordinator program admission requirements vary by school, but nearly all require students to have graduated from high school or completed a GED. Bachelor’s degree programs often require an SAT or ACT score in addition to completion of specific high school classes such as foreign languages, advanced math, or science. Personal statement essays and letters of recommendation generally must be submitted as well.
Certificate programs frequently require that students have already completed either an associate or bachelor’s degree. Master’s programs require students to have completed a bachelor’s degree. Many programs look for GRE scores and work experience, in addition to personal essays, letters of recommendation, and official transcripts.
Clinical Research Coordinator Program Accreditation
While there is no national or regional accrediting body for clinical research coordinator programs, students can ensure that the program they are enrolling in is high quality by verifying what accreditation the school does hold. Students should look for schools that hold national or regional accreditation that is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education (USDE).
On-Campus Clinical Research Coordinator Degree Programs
Completing a bachelor of science degree (BS) in clinical research at UNCW’s School of Nursing prepares students to navigate the regulatory, business, and clinical aspects of developing new therapies to treat diseases, extend life expectancy, and increase the quality of life. Students are required to take prerequisite courses and fulfill general university education requirements their first two years at UNCW. In the spring of their sophomore year, they can apply for admission to the clinical research program.
Once in the program, students take courses such as pharmacotherapeutics, bioanalytics, and managing clinical trials. Senior year requirements include an internship which gives students hands on experience in the science and management of clinical research.
- Location: Wilmington, NC
- Duration: Four years
- Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Tuition: $9,254 per semester
BU’s master’s in clinical research at Boston University’s School of Medicine is an outstanding program. Students attending full-time can complete this 32-credit program in just four semesters. An extensive practicum and capstone project are required to graduate.
This program is ideal for physicians, nurses, research coordinators, and other professionals who want to learn how to manage clinical research. To apply for fall admission, students should submit their application, transcripts verifying a baccalaureate degree, letters or recommendation, and GRE scores.
- Location: Boston, MA
- Duration: One year
- Accreditation: Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the Council on Medical Education of the American Medical Association (AMA)
- Tuition: $54,720 total
Online or Hybrid Clinical Research Coordinator Degree Programs
Students who have already completed an associate degree or have between 45 to 60 transferable credits can apply for the GWU bachelor of science in clinical research administration. This online degree completion program comprises 60 credits and prepares students to work in the field of clinical research, where they can help bring new therapeutic treatments, devices, and practices to market. Students learn to write clinical development plans, navigate ethical considerations, and adhere to local, national, and federal regulations.
- Location: Washington, DC
- Duration: Two years
- Accreditation: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA)
- Tuition: $36,900 total
With the flexibility to complete courses at their leisure, students can find the online master of science in clinical research at Campbell University to be accessible and innovative. In as little as a year, students can earn a degree that prepares them for leadership roles in government agencies, biotechnology industries, and medical institutions. Required courses include data management, medical ethics, and healthcare economics. A four-semester research-based project is required as well. Students typically find employment as project managers, biostatisticians, and clinical research coordinators upon graduation.
- Location: Buies Creek, NC
- Duration: Two years
- Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Tuition: $875 per credit-hour
How Long Does it Take to Become a Clinical Research Coordinator?
After graduating from high school, students can expect to spend two to four years completing their clinical research coordinator education. Then, depending on what kind of degree was obtained, students need to secure employment in the field and complete 3,000 to 6,000 hours performing the essential job duties of a clinical research coordinator. Upon completion of the hours, they can sit for certification exams.
How To Become a Clinical Research Coordinator – Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)
Students who wish to pursue a career as a clinical research coordinator need to complete high school or acquire their GED. They are encouraged to have strong marks in math and science coursework in order to qualify for an undergraduate program.
Step 2: Attend an Undergraduate College Program (Two to Four Years)
Professionals in the clinical research coordination field generally have some form of undergraduate degree, be it a bachelor’s or associate degree. Although you can work in the field without one, securing employment, advancement, and certification can be difficult.
Step 3: Gain Work Experience in the Clinical Research Field (18 Months to Three Years)
Once students have completed a degree in clinical research management or similar field, they can seek employment in a clinical facility assisting with trials. Typical employers include hospitals, government agencies, universities, and pharmaceutical companies.
Step 4: Obtain Certification (Timelines Vary)
Certification through the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) or the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA) can be completed once professionals have met the eligibility requirements and passed the appropriate test. Which certification a person should pursue depends largely on their professional aspirations and specific subfield.
Step 5: Complete a Certificate or Master’s Degree Program (Optional, One to Two Years)
While a master’s degree or certification is not required to work in this field, obtaining further education can improve a professional’s chance for advancement. Also, professionals who continue their education can find it easier to participate in innovation within the field.
What Do Clinical Research Coordinators Do?
Clinical research coordinators are responsible for overseeing and managing clinical research trials. Typically they work under a principal investigator and their duties can include:
- Collecting data
- Informing research participants about the study
- Ensuring a trial adheres to federal, state, institutional, and local regulations
- Administering questionnaires
- Assisting in responding to any audits
- Helping develop, categorize, and manage the projects budget
- Making sure the project follows guidelines, meets objectives, and stays on schedule
- Maintaining and categorizing all the study materials and findings
- Preparing study materials
- Screen subjects for eligibility
- Conducting and safeguarding informed consent processes
- Purchasing and maintaining study supplies
- Participating in study reporting process
- Assisting with closing out the project upon completion
Clinical Research Coordinator Certifications & Licensure
There are two main licensing bodies for clinical research coordinators:
- The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) offers certification as a clinical research associate (CRA), clinical research coordinator (CRC), principal investigator (PI), and ACRP certified professional (ACRP-CP), as well as the subspecialties of ACRP medical device professional (ACRP-MDP), and ACRP project manager (ACRP-PM).
- The Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA) offers a certified clinical research professional (CCRP) certification.
Professionals in the field who want to continue their education or improve their chances of advancement can seek any number of clinical research coordinator certificates offered at universities across the U.S. Some are completely online, such as the graduate certificate program at Boston University’s School of Medicine. Other courses are in person, such as the certificate of mastery in clinical research offered by Oklahoma City Community College.
Clinical Research Coordinator Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (2019) there are over 60,000 people working in the field of “natural science managers,” which includes clinical research coordinators. On average, professionals in this field make $123,860 annually. Those in the bottom 10 percent can expect to earn $65,000 (or less), while the top 90 percent of earners will gross more than $208,000 annually.
Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.