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Clinical research associates (CRAs) organise and administer clinical trials of new or current drugs in order to assess the benefits and risks of using them.

Typical employers of clinical research associates include pharmaceutical companies and clinical contract agencies.

What does a clinical research associate do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Clinical research associates help to organise and monitor the different phases of clinical trials of drugs. Key responsibilities include:

  • writing drug trial methodologies (procedures)
  • identifying and briefing appropriate trial investigators (clinicians)
  • setting up and disbanding trial study centres
  • designing trial materials and supplying study centres with sufficient quantities
  • providing clinicians with instructions on how to conduct the trials
  • collecting and authenticating data collection forms (commonly known as case report forms)
  • monitoring progress throughout the duration of the trial
  • writing reports

Typical employers of clinical research associates

  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Clinical contract agencies or houses
  • Hospital academic departments

As there is strong competition for vacancies, work experience gained using relevant scientific and analytical techniques can be useful, as can previous nursing, medical sales, pharmaceutical research and clinical laboratory work. Vacancies are advertised by specialist recruitment agencies, online, in national newspapers and in scientific journals such as Clinical Research Focus, Nursing Times, New Scientist, Nature and The Pharmaceutical Journal.

  • The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Read our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.
  • If you'd like to find out what your salary might look like, take a look at our article on how much you might earn in science on our TARGETcareers website.

Qualifications and training required

To become a CRA it is necessary to hold an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification in nursing, life sciences (for example, biology, microbiology, toxicology, biochemistry, or pharmacology) or medical sciences (such as physiology, immunology, medicine, anatomy or pharmacy). Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options. Doing a PhD may improve your promotional prospects (some employers provide opportunities to gain higher professional qualifications via block or day release).

Key skills for clinical research associates

  • Commercial awareness
  • A logical and inquisitive mind
  • Good organisational abilities
  • Excellent numerical, written and verbal communication skills
  • Confidence

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In Partnership

This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by TARGETjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.

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