What Is a Clinical Research Assistant?

Want to be at the forefront of scientific research and progress? Then consider a career as a research assistant. 

Working in clinics, laboratories, hospitals, and research institutions, clinical research assistants play a crucial part in developing and testing the safety and effectiveness of countless innovative health care treatments and cutting-edge medications. 

In this article, we’ll outline in great detail the crucial and compelling work of a research assistant, as well as the education, earning potential, and work environment a clinical research assistant can expect. By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll have a complete picture of what it means to be a clinical research assistant and feel confident that this exciting career could be the right choice for you.

What Is a Clinical Trial?

To understand the work of a clinical research assistant, it’s important to understand the purpose of a clinical trial, so let’s begin there. 

A clinical trial is nothing more than a research study that aims to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a new medical, behavioral, or surgical treatment or intervention.

The subject of a clinical trial could be a new kind of medication, or it could be a new form of health care device. Or sometimes the trial is simply about new ways of diagnosing a disease or disorder. That can be before there are even symptoms or just a new way of interpreting a set of symptoms once they arise.

In our next section, we’ll go into greater detail about the important role clinical research assistants play in the process of a clinical trial.

What Does a Clinical Research Assistant Do?

If you’re interested in a career as a clinical research assistant, it’s important to understand what a clinical research assistant does on a daily basis. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies clinical research assistants as biological technicians, though some aspects of the typical job description of a research assistant will overlap somewhat with that of a clinical laboratory technologist and technicians — these are just different names for very similar job duties.

Once a clinical trial is ordered, clinical research assistants operate high tech medical equipment in order to conduct the test. 

Clinical research assistants may also analyze bodily fluids. That can include blood, urine, and tissue samples. So if you’re squeamish, bear that in mind. 

The next step is to study those samples and record any abnormal findings. Those documented findings are then discussed with a research physician or medical scientist. Clinical research assistants may also work with, study, observe and interact with individuals who have agreed to participate in the trial.

Other common tasks include the care and maintenance of medical and scientific testing equipment, which can include test tubes, scales, and test tubes. If you like working with new and innovative gadgets, this is the job for you, and any candidate for a clinical research position should be comfortable with computers.

What Skills Are Needed to Be a Clinical Researcher

As well as what’s already been mentioned, here are some additional traits, skills, and aptitudes common among those who excel in a career as a clinical research assistant. 

Analytical Skills and Critical Thinking

A good clinical research assistant will have excellent analytical skills and be able to think critically, both when gathering data but also when interpreting that data to be presented to the client, research physician, or clinical scientist. 

The findings gathered by a clinical research assistant play an important part in the therapy, medication, treatment, or device being approved by the FDA. Only then can the product make it to market. 

Detail-Oriented and Organized

Attention to detail and strong organizational skills are also important traits for any research assistant. First of all, clinical research assistants must constantly monitor the equipment while it is performing an experiment, and a CRA must keep close tabs on the process to ensure the equipment is working properly. 

Being detail-oriented also becomes important when it’s time to record the results, including:

  • The conditions under which the testing was conducting.
  • The procedures followed while conducting the experiment.
  • Results and data gathered from the experiment.

This documentation must be thorough, complete, and accurate. If any of that sounds like you, you’ll make a great clinical research assistant.

Tech Skills, Physical Stamina, and Dexterity

As we mentioned earlier, clinical research assistants use state-of-the-art computers and equipment, putting tech skills at a premium for this career. Operating the equipment can also take a certain level of physical dexterity. In addition, the job can also sometimes require long hours standing and sometimes heavy lifting.

It’s important to note that not all work performed by a clinical research assistant is performed on machines. Clinical research associates also work with actual test subjects, and they present their findings to supervisors. This means people skills are also important for a candidate in the field of clinical research.

Does it seem like a career as a clinical research assistant might be a good fit for you? Up next, we’ll provide a brief overview of how to get your start as a clinical research assistant.

How Do I Start a Career in Clinical Research?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement to become a clinical research assistant. That degree is most often in clinical research or in the sciences. 

While in college, many students gain lab experience by volunteering, interning, or working as a clinical laboratory associate — the entry-level position in any laboratory setting. Some work experience in a lab setting is a common requirement for many employers when hiring research assistants.

Many states require laboratory personnel like clinical research assistants to gain licensure. To find out more, contact your state’s department of health, or the state boards of occupational licensing. Additional licensing information can be found at The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science.

Additional clinical research assistant credentialing is offered through the following organizations: 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical research assistants make between $46,000 and $53,000 a year. Additionally, there are between 90,000 and 300,000 positions in the U.S. That number is expected to grow at a rate of between 5% and 7%, right in-line with many other professions.

And there you have it! While it’s a bit tricky to know how to get started, it is possible to find work as a clinical research assistant. The first step in a compelling, lucrative, and fascinating career in the field of clinical research.