Clinical Research as a Career Path and the Need for Deliberate Site Action

Kristen Gurnea, MPH, CCRC, ACRP-PM

Kristen Gurnea, MPH, CCRC, ACRP-PM, Manager of Clinical Research, Renown Health

Changing ‘I fell into this’ into ‘This was my career of choice.’

Many clinical research professionals “fell into” this career pathway rather than choosing it deliberately from the outset. With today’s well-known workforce challenges, it is more important than ever for sites to address workforce development in a meaningful way, reimagining how clinical research departments perform in an organizational context.

“Multiple career trajectories can bring individuals into clinical research,” said Kristen Gurnea, MPH, CCRC, ACRP-PM, Manager of Clinical Research at Renown Health. “Once here, appropriate onboarding and training programs are key to retention.”

“We often hear that clinical research professionals ‘accidentally happened upon’ this career path,” adds Lisa Lionetti-Freutel, CCRC, Clinical Research Coordinator at Renown Health. “Potential career routes are many – whether starting with a job in a clinic with an engaged investigator, seeing a job posting with ‘clinical’ in the title, or hearing about clinical research from a contact who also accidentally kick-started their career supporting clinical trials. Making the choice to pursue clinical research from the start of an individual’s professional career is much rarer than we would like.”

“Further complicating the picture, once a person decides to enter clinical research, the landscape is complex and can be overwhelming, while high-quality training may not be available at the site level,” asserts Valerie Smith, BA, Clinical Research Center Administrative Manager at the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine. “To build and maintain a strong workforce, sites should keep in mind that employee retention begins prior to their start date, with experiences during the early days setting the precedent for employee satisfaction and length of tenure.”

“The clinical research coordinator’s role is similar to that of a small business owner, with wide-ranging responsibilities from regulatory management, to billing compliance, to patient, sponsor, and investigator management, to specialty clinic coordination,” adds Gurnea. “Site leaders should take full responsibility for each employee’s onboarding and training, providing relevant resources as early as possible to drive success.”

‘I Fell Into This!’ Clinical Research as a Career Path and the Importance of Deliberate Site Action

Join Kristen at ACRP 2023 [April 28 – May 1; Dallas, TX], where she—and three co-presenters—will analyze the career trajectories that bring individuals to clinical research and delve into the key onboarding and training dynamics required for retention. View complete schedule. 

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As Gurnea explains, in addition to setting expectations and promoting research integrity, leaders should foster a passion for work that aligns with each employee’s strengths and interests. In parallel, site staff should develop collaborative relationships with new employees, helping provide a solid support network to ensure employee success.

“To help retain employees, sites should also look at the available career pipeline,” states Katie Buckley, CCRC, Lead Clinical Research Coordinator, Renown Health. “Clinical research departments, particularly those affiliated with a health system, should align their processes with those of the clinics they serve. This can improve collaboration and shared experiences for the benefit of both research and clinic staff.”

“Following our 2021 affiliation agreement, Renown Health invested in intentional internal communication and human resources initiatives to develop a career pipeline and experience ladder,” concludes Gurnea. “This was designed based on geographical and experiential considerations, with the aim of building and retaining our clinical research workforce. We are pleased with the results, and today, our combined team collaborates and actively shares resources across the affiliation.”

Author: Jill Dawson