Survey Identifies Factors in Reducing Clinical Research Coordinator Turnover

Danielle Buchanan, BS, Clinical Translational Research Coordinator III, Department of Neurology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Strong, collaborative relationships with principal investigators (PIs) are a key factor of longevity in clinical research coordinator (CRC) positions—an essential, but increasingly transient job in executing treatment-advancing clinical trials, Vanderbilt University Medical Center researchers say.

Danielle Buchanan, BS, clinical translational research coordinator III in the Department of Neurology, and Daniel Claassen, MD, MS, chief of the Division of Cognitive Disorders and associate professor of neurology, found the top factor for retention is a close working relationship between CRCs and PIs that emphasizes respect and collaboration.

Salary followed as the next factor for retention among 85 former or current CRCs who responded to a REDCap survey sent to 113 people from more than 30 academic medical centers across the U.S.

Besides encouraging PIs to establish collegial relationships through hands-on involvement in clinical research trials, the survey results spotlight how compensation and a clear trajectory for career growth were significant predictors of retention among coordinators. A full analysis appears in “Empowering the Clinical Research Coordinator in Academic Medical Centers,” published in the Mayo Clinical Proceedings: Innovation, Quality & Outcomes.

“[CRCs] are the lynchpin of research teams,” says Claassen, the senior author for the article. “For patients, they are the constant face across a sometimes-difficult journey. We wanted to know what it takes to make this coordinator role a career, and not a steppingstone to another position. What does it take for coordinators to stay and thrive in an academic medical center? Can we transition from an ‘in-and-out role’ to a stable, honored position that has a trajectory in an academic system?”

Saying that he has seen how hiring CRCs is a challenge to PIs, Claassen adds, “I feel like the [CRC] role is transient, in part because academic institutions have not invested in the role as long-term, respected positions. There is no clear trajectory for advancement and the salary structure is not incentivized.”

Claassen and Buchanan set out to examine what entices coordinators to stay in the role because, while the position previously had longevity, it has evolved into a stopover role for people early in their careers. The transience carries costs for the research team and institution because filling the spot requires recruitment and training. For patients, CRC turnover adds uncertainty and unfamiliarity to their clinical trial experience, notes Buchanan, who has been a coordinator for eight years and is first author on the article.

“Ultimately, we are here for the patient, especially the ones with chronic, devastating diseases,” Buchanan says. “When there is turnover [of CRCs on studies], it is detrimental to the patient. I put together the survey because we wanted to look for that missing piece that tells us why people leave, or what makes them stay. I want to raise the prestige of the position so PIs, administrators, and sponsors understand that coordinators are more than worker bees. We’re ambassadors of hope to patients and families, and I’d love to change the mindset that this isn’t a long-term career path.”

Edited by Gary Cramer