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How to find a CRA: with the number of clinical trials continuing to rise, there is growing pressure on companies to find, appoint and retain good CRAs (Clinical Research Associates). But finding the right CRA for the job is proving increasingly difficult. Alex Gilmore, Director of recruitment consultants Oxygen Life Science Solutions, explains why CRAs have become such a rare breed.


There is no doubt that CRAs are becoming harder to track down. Many pharma companies run an almost permanent recruitment drive to find CRAs capable of managing the ever-increasing number of early stage clinical trials. At the same time, newly qualified life sciences graduates--the traditional CRA recruit--are turning away from the profession, deterred by the long hours and extensive travelling that the job requires. And just to compound the problem, once hired, CRAs rarely seem to leave their employer unless actively headhunted (and those who have developed a clinical specialism may be headhunted quite aggressively). Keen to retain their CRAs, employers are more than happy to offer packages that will retain staff for as long as possible. This can mean reduced travel, better training and a clearer career path--anything to stop a valuable CRA from moving on to a competitor.

The CRA is involved in every stage of a clinical trial. A typical CRA job spec ranges from understanding and monitoring the trial protocol through to final reporting and, occasionally, publication. In between, the CRA is responsible for setting up, implementing and monitoring the trial, liaising with medical staff, ethical committees, in house teams and trial subjects, managing data collection, and eventually closing the trial down.

There is no great shortage of individuals with the qualifications and aptitude to become a CRA. Instead, at the heart of the problem is the fact that many companies use a recruitment strategy that actively prevents them from accessing the full range of talent on offer. For example, there is an evolution in the core skills considered necessary for the CRA post. Many companies now recognize that relevant experience of at least two years is just as valuable--if not more--than a degree.

The CRA role is very challenging; it demands excellent writing, data management, organization and inter-personal skills, often beyond the capability of a newly qualified graduate. Employers have come to accept the fact that graduates need up to six month's training before they can operate at the level expected. But with trials constantly in the pipeline, six months can be a long time to wait for your new recruits to become productive. The fact that experienced staff can be put to work with significantly less training has prompted many employers to widen their recruitment pool, for example, by persuading reps to move into the CRA role. The synergies here are obvious, and the move can even represent a step up the career ladder for many.

There are also inherent problems in finding and attracting established CRAs who may want to move. The nomadic life of the CRA does not lend itself to job hunting; with time always at a premium, CRAs find it easier to submit CVs to recruitment portals than trawl through job adverts and company websites. Constant travelling also makes the administration of job-hunting harder. Contact can often be difficult, and interviews harder to arrange, making the effort required by the CRA much greater. Once again, if they are happy enough where they are, speculative job hunting is less tempting.

If recruitment is in the hands of in-house teams and HR departments, it can take weeks for a job spec to be drawn up--or for the job ad to appear. The answer could be to make better use of the recruitment consultancies already hired to fill other posts within the organization. Many CRAs actively prefer to use consultants because they genuinely don't have the time to job hunt themselves. They want the consultant to track down opportunities, broker introductions, and set up interviews, while they travel the country doing their job.

From the employer's perspective, consultancies can also be more proactive identifying and presenting likely candidates even when specific roles are not available. This approach can make the whole process easier and faster for the employer, and can also result in better quality candidates reaching the interview stage. Consultancies are also well placed to give an overview of the packages currently offered by competitor companies, so that employers can see what they have to do if they are to attract the best.

Employers will continue to find it hard to recruit talented CRAs, but by broadening recruitment criteria and using different recruitment tactics, a wider pool of likely candidates will emerge. The fact that CRAs, themselves, prefer to job hunt through agencies is also a signal to employers to tap into the resources a consultancy can offer in order to find CRAs even faster.

Further information

Alex Gilmore

Oxygen Life Science Solutions

Sixth Floor, City Gate East

Tollhouse Hill, Nottingham


T: +44 115 935 2200

F: +44 115 935 2123
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Title Annotation:recruitment
Author:Gilmore, Alex
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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