Innovative Sites and CROs Find Ways to Retain Top Talent

Christina Brennan, MD, CCRC, Vice President for Clinical Research, Northwell Health

Talent poaching. Aggressive recruiters. Signing bonuses.

No, it’s not the National Football League draft. It’s actually the shocking state of play today in the world of clinical trial staffing, where clinical research coordinators (CRCs) and clinical research associates (CRAs) are being courted like star athletes, and sites and contract research organizations (CROs) are left reeling as they try to cobble together study teams amidst turnover, burnout, and rising demand for trials.

However, amidst the horror stories and frustrations, some sites and CROs have found ways to stem the tide. From crafting meaningful internal career paths, to celebrating team victories over pizza, innovative team leaders can retain some of their most important personnel with proven, proactive tools and tactics.

Suzanne Rose, MS, PhD, CCRC, FACRP, executive director of research at Stamford Hospital, recently talked an employee out of retirement in part by emphasizing some of the “intangibles” making the CRC job so rewarding. She talked about some of the treatments the CRC had helped to bring to patients, was amenable to crafting a hybrid workload requiring less travel, sweetened the financial package, and showed the employee where they could advance within the organization.

“It was a success story,” Rose says. She also talked to the employee about upcoming fun team-building activities designed to enhance camaraderie and to be held off campus. “You don’t get that when you are 100% remote,” she notes.

On the employee side, Kasey Sands, PhD, MSN, RN, a clinical research quality engineering specialist with Frestedt Inc, says she and others like her are more likely to stick around if they see a defined career path with training opportunities. Pairing employees with a senior mentor is also a sticky tool, Sands says.

Further, don’t underestimate the value of team building as a retention tool, says Kerri Venn, chief operating officer at Centricity Research. “Having friends at the job definitely helps” to fight turnover, she observes. Venn is also a big fan of giving staff kudos at team events and focusing on their good work. “We all want to feel part of something bigger,” she says.

For Christina Brennan, MD, CCRC, vice president for clinical research at Northwell Health, it’s time for industry to rethink how it recruits and retains talent. “We’re still doing it the same old ways” and it’s increasingly less and less effective, she warns.

Brennan is a big advocate of giving clinical trial team members clear career paths and opportunities for professional development. “Send them to conferences, help them to grow,” and demonstrate your commitment to their career development, she urges.

In the meantime, while travel will probably always be a portion of a CRA’s workload, CROs that take concrete steps to address the burden will also have a leg up in recruitment and retention, says clinical research consultant Suheila Abdul-Karrim, CCRA, ACRP-MDP, FACRP.

“Here in South Africa, flights are ridiculously priced and flight options are drastically reduced,” Abdul-Karrim says. “CRAs are under unbelievable pressure, and can only maintain this pace for awhile before they burn out.”

Overwhelmed CRAs are more likely to look for a new place to work, and possibly even leave the clinical trial industry altogether, Abdul-Karrim notes. “They are going into teaching and other professions,” in part because of the “lightning speed and pressure” they are working under, she says.

It’s vital for CROs today to work proactively to improve their staffing situations for tomorrow, Venn says. “It’s so demoralizing for the rest of the team” when a quality employee leaves, she notes. A well-placed employee gift card or other form of recognition, coupled with clear career paths and opportunities to grow, can pay valuable dividends for years to come, she adds.

Author: Michael Causey