How to become a clinical research associate (CRA)

Author: Anastasiya Stepovik-Makeienko
Posting date: 22/09/2021
How to become a clinical research associate (CRA)

Clinical research is an important step in developing and evaluating new medical products. For people with qualifications or experience within life sciences, a career in clinical research can offer many rewarding, interesting and varied opportunities and career paths. With the demand for new prevention methods and treatments ever increasing, clinical research associates are needed by pharma, biotech, medical device companies and CROs around the world. Here are some things to consider if you’re looking to kick-start a career in clinical research and how to become a clinical research associate:

What is a clinical research associate?

'A clinical research associate (CRA) is someone who monitors the running of clinical trials. A CRA may be involved in some or all stages of the clinical trials process depending on the type of position or the employer.

What are the responsibilities of a clinical research associate?

Typically, the key responsibilities of a CRA will include monitoring study sites and clinical activities, updating study documentation, maintaining clinical data systems and coordinating research procedures.

If you are a field-based CRA, you will spend most of your time travelling to different locations, dealing with medical professionals in trial centres, healthcare practices, or hospitals. The remainder of your time may be spent either office-based or working from home, but this will depend on the company. Some companies will have in-house CRA roles who just focus on document review and management and will make site visits only occasionally.

What is the demand for clinical research associates?

Driven by a rise in the number of healthcare facilities, increasing healthcare expenditure, technological and research capabilities, and an aging population, the need for new treatments has increased exponentially in recent times. This has led to a rise in the number of companies hiring for new clinical research jobs and this is likely to keep gaining momentum in the years to come.

What qualifications or training do I need to get a clinical research associate job?

A degree in a life science or other health-related discipline is usually needed to start a career in clinical research. However, there are courses and training available that can help you get a foot in the door if you haven’t got the desired qualifications.


Although not usually necessary, a Master's degree (MSc. or equivalent) or a PhD can be advantageous and could give you valuable experience in clinical research. A relevant PhD can also be beneficial, as some companies will see this as relevant work experience and count it towards reaching promotions to more senior positions.


The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) offers a certification exam to become a Certified CRA. Even though, for most CRA roles, this is not a requirement, being CCRA certified is a real advantage. The exam covers everything a CRA will need to know from scientific concepts and research design to product development and regulation, to data management.


There are lots of courses out there that can provide you with a detailed understanding of what it takes to a be CRA. Before you sign up to anything, make sure it is a recognised training course that is recommended by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) or the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SoCRA).

How do I get the right experience for a clinical research associate job?

Getting your first job in clinical research can be challenging, and many graduates at the start of their clinical research career can become frustrated by the 'catch 22' scenario: they can't find work because of a lack of experience and they can't get experience because they can't find work.

Without relevant work experience, you will be more likely to secure a job as a clinical trials assistant (CTA). A CTA role will help support all processes of the trial and give you the required experience to move into a clinical research assistant role.

Generally, larger companies are far better equipped to take-on inexperienced graduates and are more likely to offer programmes such as graduate assessment days and internships. Research who the top pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers and contract research organisations are, and look out for opportunities on their career websites. Their social media pages are also great places to find out about graduate programmes, so keep a close eye on them too.

You might be able to gain experience by working on academic projects or working within a healthcare body. Although these are good ways to gain experience, moving into a commercial environment later can be quite different and you might have to take a more junior position with a lower salary than you are used to.

Tips for applying to clinical research jobs            

Even with all the relevant qualifications, skills and experience that you need to become a clinical research associate, there can still be challenges in landing your perfect clinical research job. A few simple changes to your approach can give your CV a better chance of success.

Be realistic

Be realistic about the types of jobs that you can attain. If you don’t have industry experience, you are unlikely to be hired for anything above an entry level role. Don't apply to senior CRA jobs or clinical project manager roles unless you have been working as a CRA for some time already and have the required experience. Save yourself the time and effort in making lots of speculative applications and take a more targeted approach.

Highlight your relevant experience

If you are applying for a clinical research associate job, ensure that you read each job description carefully and highlight on your CV the relevant experience that matches the specific description. Your cover letter should be personalised to the specific company and describe why you want to work for that company and which of your skills match the specific requirements of the role. Employers and life sciences recruitment consultants are looking for the most relevant applications and will readily discard those that have put little effort into personalising it.

Make sure you network

Remember, not every company will advertise all its vacancies so you should consider other approaches too. Networking with recruiters and hiring managers and uploading your CV to a database are two great ways that employers and recruiters with CRA jobs can find you.

What are the different career paths you can take?


There are a variety of ways to progress your career in clinical research, with pharma, biotech, and medical device companies and CROs all offering opportunities. Roles will vary from company to company but typically CRAs will progress to be a senior clinical research associate. With the right experience, CRAs will have the potential to progress all the way to clinical director or even VP level.

Once a CRA has reached senior level, there are typically three main routes a career in clinical research can take. You will either be a manager of the trial process, a manager of people or a project manager.

Clinical trial management:

Usually responsible for managing, coordinating, and overseeing various aspects of the trial. Typical duties will involve supervising staff, implementing study tools and documents, overseeing trial budgets and providing strategic input into trials.

Clinical team management:

Responsible for acting as the direct line manager to associates. Clinical team managers will manage and support team members, ensure staff are trained effectively, review the effectiveness of business processes and plan professional development activities.

Clinical project management:

Involved with the planning and directing of clinical trials and is also responsible for evaluating clinical data. Day-to-day tasks include, maintaining study records, ensuring activities are being delivered on time and on budget, interpreting study data and developing trial plans.

Are you already a CRA professional or looking to start your career in clinical research? We might have something that is the right fit for you. We are looking for experienced professionals for a broad and extensive range of clinical research positions. Take a look at our latest clinical research jobs and apply today.