Clinical Research Associates Guide

Clinical Research Associates Guide

Clinical research associates (CRAs) often dream of getting a job with one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies but don’t realize that if they work instead for a CRO that it can enable them to play an important role in helping to provide patients with new treatments and drugs.

It can be as fulfilling to work for a CRO, and more beneficial for your career in some cases, as it is to work for a major pharmaceutical company.

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Contract Research Organization (CRO)

A CRO is a contract research organization or clinical research organization, is a large establishment that provides a medical device, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical companies with outsourced clinical services.

There are different types of CROs, which include small, niche CROs specializing in a certain therapy area or one aspect of the trial, and full-service CROs handling all aspects of the client’s overall clinical trial process.  CRO clients may range from the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to small start-ups.  

ProClinical has worked with a number of candidates who have worked for a CRO as well as a pharmaceutical company.  From our experience, we have compiled a list that includes some of the largest benefits that you can receive from working at a CRO:

1. Working environment

There is a common misconception that a CRO environment is not as stimulated as at a pharmaceutical company. 

However, that is not true at all. 

Many individuals in CPM (clinical project management) and CRA jobs, in fact, who have gone onto a pharmaceutical company from a CRO have found that their working environment was not as fast-paced.

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In order to excel in this kind of dynamic and challenging setting, you must have outstanding organizational and time management skills and have the abilities to prioritize and multi-task. 

A CRO works with numerous clients both internationally and nationally, and you will need t be able to adhere to the tight deadlines of your sponsor and have the ability to juggle different time zones. 

There will also be a wide variety of projects that are available to you.  So when working at a CRO there are never any dull moments.

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2. Job stability

Another major advantage in the field is job stability.  A CRO works with several different pharmaceutical clients. 

Therefore if one project gets unexpectedly dropped, you won’t be out of a job. 

Instead, you will just be put to work on a different project with a new sponsor. On the other hand, if you are working for a pharmaceutical company and a trial ends prematurely, then there your job won’t necessarily be guaranteed.

In some respects, a CRO is better shielded than a pharmaceutical company, from economic decline. If one client goes under, a CRO will still have many other remaining clients and usually continuos new ones even during economic downturns.

3. Transferrable Skills and Career Progression

Although career progression is certainly expected when you work at a pharmaceutical company, it is often possible to climb the career ladder more quickly at a CRO. 

A CRO tends to be a structured, large organization that has multiple projects and numerous resources. 

It is not as easy to work on various projects, frequently with international exposure, with a pharmaceutical company that can help you rapidly build up your experience.

If you apply earlier in your career for higher positions it makes it easier.  

Having a broad skill set will allow you to transfer into different therapy areas, so frequently the skills that you obtain from an oncology study will apply to another type of study, since the protocols for cardiology, for example, will most likely be similar. 

It is also more likely that a CRO will recognize hard-working employees and make investments in their development after you have been able to prove your capabilities. 

It is less likely that a pharmaceutical company will do that since they usually specialize in just a couple of therapy areas, which makes it harder for you to get experience in other areas at the same company. 

4. Variety of opportunities

When working at a CRO, one of the biggest benefits as that there are more opportunities that are available. 

This includes whether you work internationally or locally, the kind of role you have, and the type of projects you work on.

Although it is possible to transfer in a pharmaceutical company from one vertical into a different one, it is a lot easier to side-step within a CRO. 

Taking a conventional career path isn’t always necessary, such as going from a CRA position into a CPM role and working your way up through the various levels of management. 

Instead, you could start out as a CRA and then transfer into drug safety or regulatory affairs. 

The opportunities for moving within a CRO are practically limitless. 

In terms of CRAs who have wanted to always work at a pharmaceutical company, you should be aware that working for a CRO enables you to work for various top pharmaceutical companies throughout your career, due to the wide variety of sponsor that a CRO partners with. 

So rather than working at one pharmaceutical company for several years and having everything invested in one project, you can instead be working on the forefront of numerous new treatments and drugs being introduced into the marketplace and ongoing critical research.   

5. Innovation

By their very nature, CROs are innovative.  They are certainly process-driven organizations, but they also continuously evolve and adapt to suit their employees and clients needs. 

It is likely that every few years departments will be restructured, after getting feedback from staff regarding the current processes and structures that are in place. 

CROs have a reputation for listening to its employees and using their feedback to make improvements to their operations and processes.  This post from ICON shows the future is coming quickly in the industry.

6. Training and development

When it comes to training and development, CROs offer excellent opportunities for their employees.  Every organization has a tendency to have its own in-house training program that includes various career paths within a structured career progression. 

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Working at a CRO as a CRA can be a great first step for a new graduate to take.  Your first couple of projects will provide you with greater exposure and you will be able to achieve more than you could during that same amount of time at a pharmaceutical company.

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