Inadequate Entry-Level Training Creates Staggering Personnel Turnover Rates

Jessica Thurmond, CRA, Sarah Cannon Research Institute

Jessica Thurmond, CRA, Sarah Cannon Research Institute

Lacking widespread formal training and development standards for newcomers, the clinical trial industry is thrashing about in something of a self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to high staff turnover levels. Just ask Jessica Thurmond, a clinical research associate (CRA) with the Sarah Cannon Research Institute.

Thurmond says she sees “[fledgling clinical research] coordinators [CRCs] thrown into studies” with inadequate training and no real grasp of the entire clinical trial life cycle. They’ll be pushed to learn more about the specific study they are in rather than about the broader CRC role and how it fits into drug development, she says, adding that, “They don’t understand the trajectory of trials.”

It’s a vicious cycle, Thurmond notes. High turnover puts pressure on sites to make quick hires, which in turn forces new employees into demanding work environments they aren’t ready to handle. What happens? The new entrants feel like “they are not set up for success,” she says. “They end up quitting because they feel they can’t do the job.”

There’s also something of a Catch-22 for the strongest performers, Thurmond adds. “They end up getting all the toughest studies because they are good, then they burnout.” At the same time, because there are no real codified training or performance metrics from which to draw, sites don’t often think about the “translatable” skills that make for a strong performer. Sites are unable to help raw or struggling CRCs emulate their best employees, Thurmond says.

“It’s an ongoing problem,” she continues. Certainly, the vast majority of sites have the “best of intentions” when it comes to training new employees, Thurmond says. Too often, though, they are “buried under a million [standard operating procedures] to read and not really given the time to digest them. It’s sink or swim,” she laments.

Thurmond applauds a recent column by ACRP Executive Director Jim Kremidas in Pharma Tech Outlook advocating new technology tools to improve trials and further professionalize the workforce. “My hope as someone who has been a coordinator, site manager, and now CRA is that [technology will offer] the ability to focus on the humanistic aspect of my job,” Thurmond says. “I feel most of us agree that the next step in bold letters is training.”

As an advocate of new technologies in the clinical trial arena, Thurmond sees them as a force for good in the effort to further professionalize the clinical trial industry. “At the end of the day, I hope that technology can give me the time to better create relationships with my sites,” she says, “and provide time for training I otherwise would not have.”

Author: Michael Causey