Competency Standards Key to Elevating Clinical Trial Profession

Denise Snyder

Denise Snyder, MS, RD, LDN, Associate Dean for Clinical Research, Duke University School of Medicine

“Everybody’s talking about clinical research in a different way today than they did 20 years ago,” says Denise Snyder, associate dean for clinical research at the Duke University School of Medicine, and a member of the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) Workforce Innovation Steering Committee (WISC), a group dedicated to advancing competency standards in the clinical trial workforce.

“I think many of us just fell into it,” Snyder says. “We started maybe with some type of clinical discipline…in my case, I’m a dietician, and then got into clinical research by accident. You didn’t really think that much about what you were necessarily doing.”

It’s time to change that, Snyder and other industry thought leaders agree. It’s time to professionalize the workforce with clear career paths, consistent performance expectations, and a shared understanding of how clinical trial professionals can identify and gain the precise knowledge they need to enhance their performance and improve the entire industry in the process.

“Thanks in part to organizations like ACRP, momentum is going in the right direction,” Snyder says. “People are getting behind the idea of standards adopted universally across the industry.”

As a member of the WISC, Snyder is committed to educating the prospective and current workforce to help them understand “the soup to nuts of clinical research and helping them understand that there’s many different pathways that people can take.” She lauds ACRP’s efforts. “One of the things that I’ve really liked with ACRP is that they’re looking at project management and spinoffs of certifications, so that it does allow for you to grow a career based on what you like to do,” she notes. “And where you think your skills are well matched, and where you feel like you can [contribute the most] to seeing the research be successful.”

While we haven’t yet developed clear career paths, Snyder notes, she’s encouraged by recent developments such as the WISC. “I think it’s coalescing,” she says. “We need to give people ladders…it’s critical that industry do a better job helping practitioners understand what they are good at, then determine how we help” them advance in their careers.

One example: Lack of management training. “We haven’t done a great job in academic medical centers of helping the managers be better at their jobs,” Snyder says. “We just took coordinators who’d been here for a while and made them managers. That doesn’t work.”

Leigh Smith, associate director of project management at PMG Research and new member of the WISC, brings a site’s perspective to the discussions. “When I was in site management, I was in charge of hiring for the site and it was just a really hard process to grasp [what to look for in a new hire] because there’s no standards,” she says. “There’s no specific background that you’re necessarily looking for. [Instead], it’s kind of is all over the place, and I think that that has resulted in a lot of our high turnover and the lack of a career path.”

There’s a lot of work to be done, Smith and Snyder and agree. Still, there’s a new level of optimism, and it begins with better communication. “We’re starting to have those conversations, which I think is extremely important [because] within the industry there’s just such a disconnect between sites and sponsors and [contract research organizations],” Smith says.

Author: Michael Causey