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How to Keep Studies on Time and Budget Amid CRA Talent Shortages

Demand for qualified CRAs continues to outpace current supply. But we have created a deep bench of CRAs to ensure our clients’ studies are well-staffed — here’s how.

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If your company is struggling to hire qualified clinical research associates (CRAs), you’re not alone. A decade-long CRA talent shortage intensified as the COVID-19 pandemic increased strain on the clinical research industry at large.

Growing need, coupled with what some are calling “the great resignation” in clinical research, has created a demand for CRAs that continues to outpace current supply. Sponsors and clinical research organizations (CROs) alike are facing competitive recruiting from limited talent pools.

These challenges were echoed in a 2022 industry survey conducted by the PPD clinical research business of Thermo Fisher Scientific. In a study of more than 150 global drug development leaders, one in three reported talent shortages as a top pain point facing their organization.

With an already strained workforce poised to see continued industry growth in coming years, sponsors and CROs must work together and get creative to tap and retain new talent.

What is causing a shortage of CRAs?

Climbing demand is driving the CRA talent gap. A study of the total R&D pipeline by Citeline found that there are 1,183 more drugs in development in 2023 than this time last year. At 21,292 drugs, 2023 is seeing the largest pipeline ever recorded, up nearly 6% from 2022, and an incredible 255% increase in the past two decades.

And as demand has sky-rocketed, the availability of qualified talent has not kept pace.

  • The need for CRAs is expected to increase by 36.4% over the next 10 years.
  • While the industry is growing, turnover of experienced CRAs is at an all-time high.
  • Increasing trial complexity expands the burden on CRAs — especially when paired with frequent travel, long hours, and the need to learn multiple systems, technologies and tools.

Without qualified CRAs to lead the operation on the ground, studies can experience longer startup times and missed milestones, costing sponsors valuable time and money — and slowing the entry of critical therapies to market.

A Transformative Approach to Close the Talent Gap

The bottom line is we must start thinking about this issue differently. Training programs to get existing CRAs ready to deploy to studies are a great place to start, and many CROs offer detailed onboarding plans that do just that.

But these programs do not address the underlying issue: How do we close the talent gap? And how do we keep CRAs satisfied enough to stay?

Tapping the health care industry for candidates looking to make a career change drastically expands and elevates the CRA talent pool.

Developing a reliable deep bench of experts in a hyper-competitive talent marketplace demands innovative recruitment and training.

That’s why our transformative Clinician to CRA program provides RNs, FNPs, PAs, MDs, PharmDs and other clinicians a pathway into clinical research, bridging gaps by introducing critical fundamentals.

Our Clinician to CRA program is a two-week intensive training with introductions to:

  • Clinical research and CROs
  • Systems and technology
  • Monitoring

It serves as a fast-tracked precursor to our CRA Academy, an intensive training program that empowers CRAs to hit the ground running on clinical trials. To date, we’ve transformed more than 3,000 entry-level professionals into high-performing CRAs, and performance metrics show that, on average, Academy CRAs compare positively to their experienced peers.

The clinicians joining our Clinician to CRA program bring a minimum of five years of experience in a clinical setting, and their medical and clinical backgrounds become assets to project teams. CRAs must be adept at assessing risk, thinking critically, making quick decisions and thinking on their feet. Health care professionals operate in these environments every day — and with the proper clinical research foundations, they become high-performing CRAs, able to quickly advance sponsors’ studies and use their years of medical experience to ensure that subjects are safely monitored.

Keys to Successfully Retaining CRAs

Once CRAs are trained, CROs must work to improve their quality of life and prevent growing turnover.

While a CRA is traditionally considered a traveling role, offering fully remote roles or adopting regional models to ease travel burden fosters work-life balance and flexibility. Over the last two years, Thermo Fisher Scientific’s PPD clinical research business has moved toward regionalized monitoring, particularly in the United States, such that our CRAs are often located near their sites. Likewise, PPD recruiters will target their efforts around geographies that have large studies set to launch, hiring CRAs whose sites are effectively on their doorsteps.

Further, we design our CRAs’ roles with advancement in mind, allowing candidates to build experience throughout the study life cycle and explore therapeutic areas. Our CRAs take advantage of regular training opportunities to upskill and reskill, expand skill sets and proactively solve future needs.

With an open mind, proper training and a focus on quality-of-life measures, CROs can avoid getting stuck in a near constant recruitment loop, equipping sponsors with top-tier talent for their studies.

Partner with a CRO that understands how to successfully equip studies with qualified talent, despite industry challenges.

Programs that source, train and deploy qualified talent into clinical operations roles will mitigate resource shortages. The PPD Clinician to CRA program is creating a pipeline of high-quality CRAs ready to embark on a successful career path in clinical research.

Our research shows that since the pandemic, roughly one-third of respondent companies have become more likely to outsource all of a trial (35%), while nearly half said the same for outsourcing part of a trial (47%) — likely in response to talent shortages (a top reported challenge).

And with CROs taking a growing role in clinical trials, it’s imperative that drug developers work with a CRO that demonstrates success in recruiting and retaining top talent for their studies.

PPD® Functional Service Partnership (FSP) solutions boast a dedicated recruitment team of over 130 professionals who identify high-potential candidates throughout the world. Once hired, our teams focus on ongoing development, engagement and retention to upskill and reskill our employees, expand our knowledge base and develop skills in advance of future workforce needs.

This approach results in turnover rates that are consistently well below industry averages, creating more engaged, knowledgeable, productive and united teams ready to provide support when and where you need it.

We are committed to operational excellence across drug development. With over 25 years of experience across more than 160 countries, PPD® FSP solutions enable biotech and biopharmaceutical companies to meet their timelines by delivering the best of the best: hard-to-find, top-tier staff who bring a customer-first, problem-solving mindset to your clinical development programs.

Access the qualified talent you need to move your studies forward on time and budget.