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How to Become a Clinical Research Specialist

Clinical research specialists are leaders in their field, often directing teams of professionals as they plan and coordinate projects that advance medicine and treatment. The broad aim of clinical research specialists is to improve human health, often through clinical research trials.

A clinical research specialist works in a scientific lab.

Generally, clinical research specialists conduct their work in laboratories and offices. This is a high-level position that requires advanced communication skills, significant professional knowledge, the ability to direct others, and the expertise to manage and analyze clinical data. Those who explore how to become a clinical research specialist can find themselves on a rewarding path in the evolving field of medicine.

What Does a Clinical Research Specialist Do?

Before a new treatment can reach the masses, it must go through clinical research and trials. Clinical research specialists not only develop these new medicines and treatments, but also advance our understanding of how treatments impact illness and disease, and identify potential side effects.

In addition to strategizing procedures, this position requires the ability to shape and communicate protocols, work with patients in a sensitive manner, and evaluate and analyze the wealth of data generated through clinical trials.

There are many facets of what a clinical research specialist does, but some chief responsibilities include:

  • Develop Protocols and Research Tools. To ensure that researchers and healthcare professionals conduct trials ethically and accurately, clinical research specialists determine the research methods, including how to collect and catalog data. This vital piece of the research process determines the scope and procedure for the entire trial. The clinical research specialist not only determines these protocols and methods, but also conveys them to everyone on the team, ensuring compliance until the research is complete.
  • Coordinate, Manage, and Oversee a Team. To become a clinical research specialist, it is necessary to be an effective verbal and written communicator. In this leadership position, individuals must explain procedures to their team and any patients involved in the research. Additionally, strong interpersonal skills are a must to ensure that research is being conducted safely, legally, and consistently. The ability to manage others, establish procedures, and work well with a diverse group of people makes for insightful, accurate research.
  • Analyze Data and Prepare Reports. Clinical research specialists not only prepare reports behind the scenes through budgets and operational records, but are also involved in analyzing the data yielded by research. Later, they are responsible for organizing their results into reports and presentations. This aspect of clinical research disseminates findings to the larger medical community, making it a critical part of the job.

Steps to Become a Clinical Research Specialist

There is some variation in possible routes to becoming a clinical research specialist. The responsibilities and requirements of individual companies may differ considerably and, as such, the specific skills required may also vary. However, there are some common professional and academic milestones — as well as a baseline of skill sets — that most employers require.

There are numerous potential job opportunities in clinical research, and the field is growing. That said, many employers require an advanced degree in nursing, life science, medical science, or a related course of study before they will consider an applicant. In addition to obtaining both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, it is also recommended that aspiring clinical research specialists have specialized knowledge in a specific subject, such as biology, toxicology, pharmacology, microbiology, or anatomy.

While the process of becoming a clinical research specialist may differ from person to person, some basic steps often include:

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a Health-Related Field

The first step to becoming a clinical research specialist is to earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. The course of study may vary, but degrees related to health science provide a robust starting point. Many individuals who obtain clinical research specialist jobs begin their journey with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, health science, biology, or a similar major. A four-year degree lays the foundation for further study and entry-level experience. It also strengthens vital skills that a clinical research specialist must obtain, such as communication, research and analysis, organization, and the ability to work as part of a team.

Step Two: Earn a Postgraduate Degree

To advance into a leadership role such as clinical research specialist, it is almost always necessary to obtain a postgraduate degree. Through advanced study, individuals interested in conducting clinical research strengthen their knowledge of implementation and assessment, and often have the opportunity to apply these skills during research phases. For example, an online Master of Science in Nursing provides students with a variety of advanced skills in research, analysis, leadership, and more.

Step Three: Gain Experience in the Field

Many job-seekers who wish to become clinical research specialists spend several years in related jobs, where they gain relevant experience. Aspiring professionals often begin their career in a clinical research assistant role. Working in a research setting under the leadership of a specialist provides great insight that is useful later on in a clinical research role.

Clinical Research Specialist Salaries

The many steps to becoming a clinical research specialist, and the high-profile work that they perform, often translates into competitive pay. According to Glassdoor, clinical research specialist salaries average around $82,000 annually, though pay can vary tremendously across organizations.

Depending on responsibilities, hours, and abilities, the salary for this position can range from $65,000 to more than $100,000 in a year, according to Glassdoor. Such well-compensated work often requires a graduate degree and at least three to five years of experience in the field. The variation in clinical research specialist salaries is reflective of the many different kind of research opportunities afforded to those in this position.

Future Growth of Clinical Research Specialists

Thanks to innovations in healthcare, a growing market for personalized medicine, and continual innovations in medical technologies, experts predict faster than average growth in the number of job opportunities for clinical research specialists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is expected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026.

How a Master of Science in Nursing Can Help

Due to the growth potential of the field, as well as the ability to make meaningful contributions to human health, CNN declared clinical research associate to be one of the most desirable jobs in America. By applying advanced knowledge and ample experience to impactful research, clinical research specialists often find opportunities to advance in the field, as well as great satisfaction in their work.

The Maryville University online Master of Science in Nursing program provides individuals who are ready to play a lead role in advancing medical research with an exciting opportunity to pursue a career this field. Step into the evolving world of clinical research by learning more about how to earn your MSN today.

Sources:

CNN Money, “Best Jobs in America”

Glassdoor. “Clinical Research Specialist Salaries”

Maryville University, “Career Opportunities for MSN Graduates”

New Scientist, “A Career in Clinical Research”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Medical Scientists”