Could a clinical research associate (CRA) position be the role for you?

September 16, 2021
By Maxine Knight

Have you been thinking about progressing in your clinical career? Maybe you’re a clinical trial administrator who is ready to take the next step. Well, if this sounds like you, you have come to the right place. In this blog, we are going to be taking you through the role of a clinical research associate (CRA), its salary and whether it may be a position you could see yourself in.


  1. What is a clinical research associate?
  2. What does a clinical research associate do and why is it important?
  3. What to expect as a clinical research associate
  4. What qualifications do I need to become a clinical research associate?
  5. What salary can I expect as a clinical research associate?
  6. Career paths
  7. Conclusion

1. What is a clinical research associate?

For some of you, this may be the first time you have come across this role. You may have just landed this position. Or, you may have had your eye on it for a while and need a little assistance getting there.

Broadly speaking, as a clinical research associate, you would:

  • coordinate the collection, distribution and storage of data obtained during clinical trials.
  • run clinical trials that test drugs and bring them safely to market
  • work on testing the effectiveness of new and existing drugs checking for risks and benefits

You’ll be involved in all stages of the trial, including identifying an investigational site, setting up, initiating, monitoring and closing down the trial.

CRAs are often employed by a pharmaceutical company or a contract research organisation (CRO) that will work on behalf of a pharma company. However, there is also a third option.

You could choose to freelance as a CRA. However, this is usually a step to take when you have developed vast experience, contacts and clients.

2. What does a clinical research associate do and why is it important?

Good question.

Well, you will certainly play a pivotal role in the coordination and execution of clinical trials. It will be your responsibility to ensure trials are delivered on time and on budget.

Your duties will include:

  • ensuring the preparation and processing of documentation surrounding the trial, including those with necessary government and regulatory bodies
  • making sure that the trials follow good clinical practices and standard operating procedures
  • implementing your company’s vision, values, policies and regulations

3. What to expect as a clinical research associate?

The specific expectations for your role will be dependent on your company and other working conditions. However, as a full-time member of staff, you will work the usual Monday to Friday hours. You should expect to work some evenings, and although weekend work is uncommon, it’s not unheard of.

Part-time work is a possibility, as are short-term contracts of six to 12 months, meaning you’ll be working more as a contractor than an employee.

If your position is field-based then the majority of your time will be spent travelling. This will mean dealing with staff such as research nurses and doctors at trial centres, GP practices or hospitals. It is not uncommon to spend 3–4 days out of the office travelling, with some overnight stays. The rest of your time will be spent either working at the office or from home.

Some CRA roles are much more office-based, in which case your responsibilities will lean towards document management and review.

Depending on the organisation you work for, your CRA role could focus on a specific disease area, and so cover the whole of the UK, or it could function on a regional basis.

If you are working for an international company, you may be expected to coordinate trials abroad.

Basically, if your role is not office-based, invest in a sturdy travel bag!

4. What qualifications do I need to become a clinical research associate?

If so far this role sounds like it could be for you, then the next important question is what is the pathway to becoming a clinical research associate. To begin with, you’ll need to hold a degree or postgraduate qualification in life science, medical science or nursing.

Typically, in your degree, you will need to have studied subjects such as:

  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology
  • Toxicology

If you want the competitive edge that comes from more knowledge in clinical trials, then a postgraduate course in clinical research can help.

You can occasionally enter a CRA position from an administrative background without a degree; however, you would need extensive experience and further qualifications to proceed.

Skills you'll need to have:

  • an understanding of the importance of good clinical practice (GCP), which is a legal requirement for all CRAs
  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills, both written and verbal, and interpersonal skills
  • working knowledge of clinical research and the phases of clinical trials
  • presentation skills
  • computer literacy
  • flexibility and adaptability
  • the ability to plan, multitask and work in a dynamic team environment
  • organisational and problem-solving skills
  • driver’s license — if your role involves monitoring multiple sites
  • the ability to collaborate and build effective relationships with trial centre staff and colleagues
  • the ability to motivate others
  • a strong customer focus
  • an excellent grasp of numeracy and a keen eye for detail
  • project management skills

5. What salary can I expect as a clinical research associate?

Like any role, salary will vary from company to company. Some salary packages may include benefits such as a company car or car allowance, bonuses and pension.

  • The starting salary for a CRA is generally from £23,000 to £30,000
  • As a senior CRA (SCRA), also known as a CRA II, you can expect to earn a salary of between £30,000 and £50,000
  • You may find senior roles pay a salary in excess of £55,000

6. career paths

It’s common to think about career progression or where your future job can lead you. A CRA position can open up many other career avenues in the pharmaceutical R&D sector. For example, positions in pharmacovigilance, marketing and regulatory affairs.

Here are some common career paths that CRAs can aspire to — dependent on experience and qualifications:

  • Lead CRA
  • Head of clinical research
  • Project manager
  • Director of clinical operations

Career development and progress will vary from company to company and will depend on a number of factors. For example, your prior experience, your motivation to excel, and development and job opportunities within the organisation.

If you work within a contract research organisation, you can increase your experience by working with a variety of sponsor pharmaceutical companies in different therapeutic areas and in different phases of clinical research. This could then enable you to move to a pharmaceutical company.

7. conclusion

Clinical research is changing lives every day and the industry has many in-demand roles just waiting for people with relevant skills and experience.

If you are a clinical trial administrator who has just been promoted to CRA Level I or you have limited experience as a CRA, CGX Training has modular training courses specifically designed for you.

Eager to start your clinical professional career or not sure whether this is the right career for you? Then book a free chat with our friendly team and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.

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