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How to excel as a CRA in a Clinical Research Organisation

Posting date: 29/08/2023
Author: Inside ICON

To excel as a Clinical Research Associate (CRA) in a Clinical Research Organization (CRO), you need a combination of education, skills, and the right mindset. Brazil-based CRA II Debora shares her tips on how to become a great CRA and provides insight into life at ICON an award-winning CRO.

“Since joining ICON in 2013, I’ve progressed from a CRA I to II. In that time I’ve learnt a lot about how best to develop and plan my future!”

Becoming a CRA

Starting with a strong educational foundation helps in becoming a CRA. Typically, a bachelor's degree in a life science or healthcare-related field is required. Debora studied Pharmacy and Biochemistry at Universidade de São Paulo. You’ll also need to demonstrate dedication, reliability, and a willingness to go the extra mile when needed.

“During my studies, I also worked as a Clinical Trials Assistant, allowing me to gain a strong level of experience in the clinical research industry. I received a hands-on idea of what it’s like to work in the sector, putting me in a good position after graduation. I then studied a PhD in Management – I strongly believe in the positive effects of good management so I was keen to discover more in this area. 

After I graduated, I became a Clinical Research Associate for a year before joining ICON as a CRA I. It’s here that I really began to develop and am now proud to have become a CRA II after about a year and a half."

If you are looking to become a CRA, you could consider obtaining certifications such as the Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP) or the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) certification to enhance your qualifications.

How to develop as a CRA

“The key skills to become a good CRA are definitely organisation and a willingness to learn! To succeed, you really need to be able to organise your own schedule and fill it with activities that will balance your working week. Good organisation isn’t only helpful for working as a CRA, but also for your personal life. When you’re travelling between sites and have a period of time away from home, it’s important to plan in advance to ensure you can see friends and family and visit the places you’d like to go.”

My time as a Clinical Trials Assistant, while I was studying, was very helpful as it confirmed to me that I really wanted to join the industry. Having contact with sites and project managers was beneficial and it gave me an authentic ‘behind the scenes’ experience!"

CRA work can involve managing multiple sites and tasks simultaneously. Develop strong organizational skills to keep track of timelines, documents, and site visit schedules.

A piece of advice for future CRA’s

"If I had to give one piece of advice for anyone looking to progress as a CRA, it would be to take as many training opportunities as possible. Most of the activities we do are online or via teleconferences, meaning a lot of training can be done in your downtime or when it’s more convenient for you. If you are willing to learn as much as you can, it’s possible to train yourself in your spare time and get ahead of the competition."

Another top tip is to stay updated with current regulations, guidelines (e.g., ICH-GCP), and industry trends. Plus, ensure you understand the drug development process, clinical trial phases, and the roles of various stakeholders.

ICON’s training and development opportunities

“The quality of training with ICON is exceptional – the structured programme is really high-quality and it’s a lot more dynamic than most: we have interactive activities and sessions that are very engaging and better than just watching presentations or reading various materials. It also helps to remember everything more easily! We have a number of refresher courses that we are obliged to take every couple of years to ensure everything remains fresh. We’re also notified about the upcoming training courses to allow us to factor them into our schedules or figure out which ones we can or can’t attend.

While a lot of the training is mandatory, there are many optional or recommended training modules. You should take as many as you possibly can! It’s important for not only your ability but also your confidence as a CRA.”

My future with ICON in Clinical Research

“I hope to become a manager within 3-4 years’ time. For now, I just want to work in my current role and learn more about my sector so I can use that experience and knowledge to be a good manager when the time comes. I’d like it to be within clinical trials, rather than project management, as I enjoy the contact with protocol, sites and CRAs. I would also be able to do this home-based, which is a helpful benefit.”

Advice for CRA’s thinking of joining ICON

“I couldn’t recommend ICON more as an employer – I hope you do consider joining me here. My colleagues here are fantastic and it’s a privilege to work with so many talented people from so many different countries. The team culture helps keep you motivated and it means everyone can learn from each other all the time as well as enjoy every aspect of work.”

Ready to apply for your next job as a CRA?

Excelling as a CRA in a CRO requires a combination of knowledge, skills, and a commitment to maintaining high ethical standards. We encourage our CRAs to continuously improve their abilities and strive to make a positive impact on the clinical research process. 

Are you interested in joining ICON as a CRA? Check our current clinical research associate vacancies today.

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