In the field of clinical drug development, Clinical Research Associates (CRAs) are in high demand and in short supply. CRA positions also have the highest turnover in the industry. Most CROs are struggling with employee retention, a challenge not new to the industry, which has seen turnover levels at or above 20% for seven of the last 10 years, according to a recent report. This is a major problem, but it is a problem that can be fixed. Here are some of the trends within Contract Research Organizations and causes of the talent shortage among CRAs.
CRAs monitor and audit clinical trials of new drugs. These trials assess the risks and benefits of pharmaceuticals. CRAs travel to different sites to observe patients and monitor the clinical trial process. CRAs also handle paperwork and review files that track the safety of new drugs. CRAs make note of any potential adverse effects, make sure the patients are safe, and ensure the drug is doing what it needs to be doing to get FDA approval. Their job is incredibly important because the success of a new drug depends on FDA approval, and there are often millions of dollars at stake when a new drug is approved.
One of the main reasons there is such high turnover is because it is a traveling position. With any job that involves a large amount of travel, work-life balance is can be challenging. Usually, when you start a CRA position, you’re told what percentage of time you will spend traveling—for example, they might tell you you’ll spend 60% of the time traveling. Yet, oftentimes, the percentage as high as 80-90% travel increasing over time. Your workload often increases in response to the shortage of CRAs. You start to travel more, and you travel farther.
Another major reason for the high turnover, is that these positions are almost entirely remote-based distanced from the company culture. The CROs are large companies and research associates start to feel disconnected and taken for granted. They feel like they’re just a number, not a valued member of the team. After a while, this leads to burnout. A job that starts out as a rewarding career becomes overwhelming and stressful. It feels like the company values profit more than they value their employees.
If the current model for CRAs is not working, what are CRAs actually looking for in their jobs? First and most importantly, they want to help their patients, improve research, and help save lives. CRAs are often very service-oriented and driven to help people. Their position is in service to pharmaceutical and biotech industries with drugs in clinical trials. They understand how important their work is, yet fail to understand why companies tend to view them strictly as a billable resource. They want to be treated with respect and appreciated.
If you find it difficult to hire and retain talented CRAs, you should review your practices and see where improvements can be made. Make sure your policies provide an adequate degree of work-life balance and demonstrate that CRAs are valuable members of the team. As long as the work environment that CRAs face leads to burnout, turnover is going to remain high.
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