Standardized Job Titles Key to Robust CRC Career Paths

Molly Downhour, MHA, BSN, NEA-BC, OCN, CCRC, a strategy executive with Medix Clinical Research

A lack of clinical research coordinator (CRC) job title consistency “blurs” the equation on both sides of the interview and hiring process, says Molly Downhour, MHA, BSN, NEA-BC, OCN, CCRC, a strategy executive with Medix Clinical Research.

In today’s clinical trial landscape, “sites are often left to themselves” to interpret various job titles without much confidence that the title reflects any actual skillset, Downhour says. She recalls her experience at a site trying to recruit and maintain the best staff, noting “We had to be creative with titles to compete with others” going after the same talent pool.

The result? Titles can become almost meaningless and arbitrary. That doesn’t do anyone any good, Downhour says.

For example, while many CRCs are nurses, they often aren’t trained for their role in clinical trials. “Nursing research is very different from clinical research,” Downhour says. Unfortunately, that contributes to a “lack of awareness” among nurses when it comes to a clear career path in the clinical trial industry.

Downhour is part of the collaborative ACRP Workforce Innovation Steering Committee (WISC), whose membership represents leadership from a broad group of stakeholders, including study sponsors, contract research organizations, clinical trial sites, academic research institutions, and regulatory agencies. The WISC provides oversight for needed workforce planning, development, and assessment activities intended to improve quality and respond to changes occurring in the clinical research enterprise.


Workforce Innovation Taking Center Stage at ACRP 2018 Next Month – Join the clinical research operations community at the ACRP 2018 annual conference April 27-30 to learn about several initiatives underway to boost clinical trial quality through standardization. Sessions Include:

Workforce Innovation: Improving Quality through Competence, Career Pathing, and More

Advances in Competence and Career Path Standardization Initiatives

Creating Your Own Career Map to Take Charge of Your Career

View the Full ACRP 2018 Schedule

ACRP 2018


WISC initiatives include advocating a standardization of titles directly reflecting knowledge level and demonstrated skillsets. The proposed job titles include tiers designed to specify whether a person is entry level, intermediate, or more advanced within a given title.

Crafted properly, standardized job titles can be leveraged to write more accurate job descriptions that set clear expectations and better illuminate a career path. This, in turn, can reduce churn and burnout, Downhour says.

The transformation from vague to meaningful job titles won’t always be easy, Downhour allows. The clinical trial industry has evolved in a relatively unchecked manner with a disparate array of professional silos and variations in standard operating procedures that are the enemy of high quality. Indeed, old habits are hard to break. Downhour summarizes, “I’m a glass half full kind of person; this won’t be easy, but it’s not insurmountable!”

The WISC is not writing anything in stone just yet, Downhour explains: “We’re looking for input from the entire industry.”

Author: Michael Causey

Related: Core Competency Guidelines for Clinical Research Coordinators

ACRP is pleased to provide the clinical research enterprise with the industry’s first competency guidelines for Clinical Research Coordinators.

CRCs can use this document for self-assessment, competence gap analysis, and creating personalized development plans.

The guidelines can help research sites improve trial quality by standardizing competence expectations for CRCs; support CRC recruitment, onboarding, and professional development initiatives; standardize CRC performance management and competence assessment; boost CRC retention through career mapping and development planning; and develop competency-based job descriptions.

The guidelines also support CROs and Sponsors with site selection by providing competence benchmarks when conducting site assessments.

Learn More