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Becoming a CRA with ICON

The global clinical trials industry was worth $46.8 billion in 2019 and analysts report the market will continue making an annual growth, reaching $49.4 billion in 2020. The growing industry is just one reason to embark on a clinical trials career and another great reason is it gives you the chance to make a difference in the healthcare industry.

A clinical research associate (CRA) will identify, initiate and close-down clinical studies for both existing and new drugs. They work closely with pharmaceutical companies, clinical contractors and hospitals, ensuring adherence to regulations and principles from phases II – IV of a clinical trial. Our CRAs are at the core of everything we do at ICON. Our team of CRAs work closely together with our customers to tackle complex issues that can improve the health of patients and the care they receive.

CRAs are often referred to as Monitors and this is the key difference between a CRA and a clinical research coordinator (CRC). While CRAs are responsible for overseeing a trial and ensuring compliance, CRCs see to patient consenting, identifying patients and reporting adverse effects in clinical trials.

Cissy Chen, one of the rising CRA stars with ICON Australia, describes how she became a CRA.

ICON has been at the heart of my career since I left university nearly four years ago. Their ongoing support is the real reason why I’ve progressed within the clinical research industry. I did my degree in medical science and I had been thinking about doing a post graduate medical course in order to become a doctor, like my mum. She’s been the doctor on a number of clinical trials and when I started to express an interest in trials she shared her experiences and lent me books about how to become a CRA.

Typically, a clinical research career path begins with a degree in life sciences a related field.

When the opportunity came up to do an internship with ICON she said that it would be a great experience for me and I agreed. It turned out that this was an excellent way to learn about the options available, I was exposed to the entire business and I learned that there were a number of different routes I could follow using my degree, such as research and lab work. It also gave me a really thorough understanding on what really happens during a trial, I learn about how the human body works and how drugs are created to interact with this.

As Cissy explains, an internship is a great way to gain exposure and map out the most rewarding career path.

I had a great mentor who gave me the in-depth information on how drugs get to market by going through many different cases and examples so I had real world cases. The internship meant that I worked all over the business with a number of different people and I’m really grateful the grounding it’s given me.

After working in an admin position as a clinical trial assistant with ICON for a year I progressed into becoming a CRA. I really enjoy it as a role, I like the fact that I get to talk and work closely with people. I hadn’t considered myself a people person before but now it’s one of my favourite parts of the position. I like the changes that occur, you can see the differences between different projects. It’s also definitely a role that suits other parts of my personality – I like challenging myself and keeping things neat and organised, both very important parts of the job!

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Your clinical trial career path

Like most clinical research employees, Cissy started as a clinical trial assistant. It’s also possible to advance into a CRA role having gained experience as a clinical project assistant. In the pharmaceutical industry, most companies look for around two years of monitoring experience before they consider you for a CRA which is why internships and graduates can be a great option to get your foot in the door and start a career in clinical trials.

My experience as an Intern meant I had connections with a number of different projects so I was able to start building up an understanding of who the sponsors are. This meant that I could become part of the conversation straight away when I started my job. ICON has really supported me, with monthly training forums where the whole department get together and talk about guidance and study current changes. There’s also regular training with my supporting managers, who I can discuss my ambitions with and together we work on goals I want to achieve. 

I’ve been a CRA for over two years now and I’m also working towards my Masters in Pharmaceutical Medicines & Drug Development. I don’t want to become a doctor any more, I’m very pleased with the choice I made to take on my current role and I’m excited about the career opportunities that I will gain from working with ICON.

Advancing in clinical research

To advance in clinical research and become a strong candidate for roles such as Clinical Trial Manager and Clinical Project Manager employers will be look for evidence of strong leadership skills. A good manager supports the development of each individual and encourages their team to make mistakes. Here are some more tips to promote leadership in your team.

When I was at university clinical research wasn’t much mentioned during my course, which is a shame because it’s such an important part of the scientific community. So for those taking a science degree I would definitely recommend looking into the clinical industry, there are a huge number of possibilities available for you and you’ll be able to feel like you’re having a real influence on the world.

Bring your clinical research career to ICON

If you’re starting your clinical research career and need help navigating your options we can help. Take a look at our hints and tips for future graduates or contact us to speak to a member of the team. 

Have you got experience in clinical research and are now looking for your next job opportunity? View our current clinical research associate jobs here and begin your application. We have vacancies across Europe, Asia and America with the option for a both home and office-based working location

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