Survey Highlights Growing CRA Workforce Shortage

Terri Hinkley

Terri Hinkley, RN, BScN, MBA, CCRC, FACRP, ACRP Workforce Innovation Officer

Turnover rates in the clinical trial workforce continue to eclipse the 25% mark despite an average 7% salary spike, according to the 18th annual CRO Industry Global Compensation and Turnover Survey, conducted by HR+Survey Solutions, LLC.

“I’m not surprised by these numbers,” says ACRP Workforce Innovation Officer Terri Hinkley, RN, BScN, MBA, CCRC, FACRP. Noting this kind of churn is not sustainable, Hinkley believes the high rate puts a spotlight on flaws in the current definition of competency as it relates to entering the clinical monitoring workforce or receiving a promotion.

“I’ve had discussions with dozens of otherwise well-qualified clinical researchers who are frustrated that they can’t move into a clinical research associate (CRA) role because they are blocked by arbitrary requirements based only on tenure,” Hinkley says. “They don’t even get a call back,” she adds.

The overall shortage of much-needed new talent being brought into the workforce is a byproduct of many of those who control the initial hiring process summarily dismissing an otherwise strong resume, often because the candidate lacks two years of industry experience. It’s a metric that isn’t founded on skill assessment or competency. Instead, it is based solely on time served in the industry without consideration of performance and demonstrated talents.

Others on the front lines share much of Hinkley’s perspective. “In an industry climate where the demand for quality monitors outweighs the supply, we should anticipate high turnover of CRAs as companies continue to offer great hiring incentives and people experience high travel, burnout, better offers, etc.,” says Laurin Mancour, CCRA, principal consultant with Atheneum Consulting.

The disconnect between hiring practices that would benefit the clinical research enterprise and actual hiring trends threatens to have long-term implications, Hinkley explains, because it is slowing the entry of new applicants and threatens to dry up an already thin CRA pipeline. Some sites are already feeling the pinch in a more acute manner. According to the survey, some companies are actually experiencing turnover that’s well in excess of 50%.

The pressure to grow the workforce is likely to continue. For example, the number of registered clinical trials skyrocketed to 231,208 as of early December compared to 24,921 in 2015, according to While some of that uptick can be explained by new reporting mechanisms and policies, the bulk of it reflect a booming industry with a workforce that may not be able to keep up in the coming years. One solution: Focusing new hiring on core competencies and not on “time served.”

ACRP recently announced plans to release a harmonized Core Competency Framework for Clinical Research Associates (CRAs) in December that for the first time ever will define the core competencies required of clinical trial monitors/CRAs within the eight core competence domains for clinical research professionals, as defined by the Joint Task Force for Clinical Trial Competence.

Author: Michael Causey