How to Become a Clinical Research Associate

Be on the forefront of bringing groundbreaking medications to market.

How to Become a Clinical Research Associate

Careers in Clinical Research

When you look at how to become a clinical research associate, you 'll find advice and information on how to begin your career path as early as high school. With education and tenacity, your job title and salary in clinical research can steadily increase throughout your career. The further you progress, the closer you 'll come to working on important treatments for acute, chronic, and deadly diseases.

Medication to treat AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and even the common cold starts out in a lab staffed with clinical research associates. Find out how to take your first step on this exciting career path.

What Is a Clinical Research Associate?

Clinical research associates assist in bringing new drugs that help to treat and manage everything from osteoporosis to multiple myeloma to market. It takes years of testing and studying drugs’ effectiveness, risks, and benefits before they are on pharmacy shelves. These clinical trials take place in a pharmaceutical lab or contract research organizations (CRO) staffed by clinical research associates.

An entry-level clinical research associate (CRA) is the most commonly available position in the clinical research field. From there, you can progress to higher-level jobs such as a CRA team lead, CRA manager, or clinical project manager (CPM).

What Does a Clinical Research Associate Do?

A clinical research associate is the gatekeeper of a research lab, ensuring that trials run smoothly and that data is accurate and up to date. Here are some of the responsibilities that clinical research associates are tasked with:

  • Making sure trials adhere to protocol and regulatory compliance.
  • Ensuring that patients in the trial receive the proper care and treatment and are safe.
  • Preparing the site for trials and stocking supplies.
  • Record-keeping and reporting trial data.
  • Taking histories from patients who have signed up to be trial participants.
  • Maintaining logs of when and how tests have been conducted.

For a more detailed list of responsibilities, take a look at this typical clinical research associate job description on Monster.

How to Become a Clinical Research Associate

People typically start their clinical research career by obtaining an undergraduate degree in one of the medical or life sciences or in nursing. You'll take classes in the following subjects:

  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • Biomedical science
  • Chemistry
  • Immunology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacy
  • Physiology
  • Toxicology

You can go on to pursue a master’s or Ph.D., but most clinical research associates are hired right out of college.

Clinical Research Associate Training

If you're not able to attend college right away but want to learn how to become a clinical research associate, some organizations will hire you right out of high school to work in an administration or data coordinator role. You won't be directly involved with clinical trials, but as you progress through your clinical research career, those early experience will increase your opportunities for jobs and promotions.

Getting an internship or working part-time with experienced clinical research associates will help you decide if this is the career for you. You'll further improve your chances of being hired at a higher entry-level position if you first work in a clinical lab or with clinical data, as a nurse or medical salesperson, or in a pharmacy.

Clinical Research Associate Certification

A certification (CCRA) is not a mandatory step in becoming a clinical research associate, however the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) administers this designation as the “premier mark of excellence” for CRAs. A certification opens the door to more employment opportunities, greater job responsibilities, and higher salaries.

You must meet a set of requirements to be eligible to take the clinical research associate exam. This includes at least 3,000 hours of professional experience. The ACRP provides guidance, study guides, and online courses to prepare you for the exam.

How Much Do Clinical Research Associates Make?

According to Monster data, the median clinical research associate salary is $103,023. An entry-level job might pay about $64,519, while the median senior clinical research associate salary is around $133,552. Working for a pharmaceutical company tends to pay the most, while working for the federal government tends to pay the least.

You can look up the average salary for clinical research associates in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.

How to Find Clinical Research Associate Jobs

You have the education and the training. You know how to become a clinical research associate. Now the next step is to put together a clinical research associate resume and cover letter that highlight your education and experience. Need help getting started? Check out our clinical research associate cover letter sample and resume sample for tips.

Then, take a look at the clinical research associate jobs on Monster to start your search.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies the top five states and areas where the most clinical research jobs are as:

Top states:

Top areas:

You've Done the Research. Now Get the Job

The next step in how to become a clinical research associate is to upload your resume for free on Monster. Let recruiters, research labs, and pharmaceutical companies know you want to be part of this vital occupation. Make sure they see you 're ready to hit the ground running as a clinical research associate!