Breaking Barriers in Research Education

Michelle Forthofer, RN, BSN

Michelle Forthofer, RN, BSN

In 1997, I began a new career as a clinical research coordinator (CRC) for the University of Florida and had only been a nurse for three years. I had no experience in the research arena—only my deep concern for spinal cord injury patients and the desire to change lives one day at time brought me to my first opportunity. My first CRC position was a work in progress, as I started with no job description and no guide other than an active protocol and a principal investigator’s assistance to get started.

Subsequent positions also presented challenges, but things have evolved since then, and now there are different levels of coordinators and monitors throughout the industry and anyone with experience is afforded an opportunity for advancement and growth in his or her professional career. One hurdle, however, remains constant: how to get the coveted experience necessary to obtain one’s first opportunity?

Careers come and go, and somehow research found its way back into my life, but in yet another capacity. As an instructor within the Technical College System of Georgia, I saw a post for a position as the program director for a new certificate program. The certificate would be awarded to students who already possessed at least a two-year degree in a healthcare field or a business degree, and the certificate would have a focus on clinical research methods and procedures.

The development of the program is dynamic and based on information thought to be necessary for success in the field. The only issue is whether the industry will recognize the degree as an asset and a substitute for experience to land that first necessary position.

What makes you stand out to a clinical research organization if you don’t have RN behind your name or that required experience in the field of research? Would a certificate of education in research be enough to turn a head? What would ignite a spark of interest in a candidate who has not gotten that first break into the industry, and at least provide an opportunity to have an interview?

Everyone knows that in the employment world, you are only as good as you look on paper until the face-to-face meeting where you can shine. Most of the students I’ve spoken with so far have said that hesitation is predominant when it comes to actually putting themselves out there, because job descriptions are intimidating. I’m asked far too often whether or not the nursing degree is the only way to break the barrier to research. My answer: I’m not sure.

Industry has its needs and wants in coordinators and monitors, and for good reason. Building a program that satisfies a technical college system’s requirements, an industry with specific standards, and a diverse student body is definitely challenging. With this in mind, productivity is the goal here for everyone. Even if the program developed is stellar, if industry won’t give the graduates a second look during the application process, has the education itself failed before it even gets started?

I welcome your thoughts on this topic at to keep the conversation going.

Author: Michelle Forthofer, RN, BSN