How Do You Become a Clinical Research Coordinator (CRC)?


A clinical research coordinator (CRC), sometimes called a clinical trial manager, plays an integral role in medical studies of all kinds. They typically work under the direction of the principal investigator (PI), who is in charge of designing, conducting, and managing the clinical trial from a high level. It is the CRC’s job then, to support, facilitate, and organize daily clinical trial activities. Clinical research coordinators also work in conjunction with the department, sponsor, and institution to guide them through compliance, finances, and personnel issues. In short, the CRC manages the day-to-day clinical operations activities, overseeing and executing delegated tasks to appropriate parties.

Key responsibilities of the CRC include the planning and management of the study, enrollment, maintenance and training initiatives, as well as maintaining compliance with federal, state and institutional regulations. Clinical research coordinators, also known as clinical trial managers (CTMs), carry out experiments, clinical research, and medical studies. They also engage directly with the trial participants as they screen them for eligibility, develop and implement recruitment strategies, and liaise with all teams throughout the trial. From evaluating research protocols to seeking approval from regulatory committees, CRCs have a wide reach within laboratories, medical centers, and research hospitals.

To secure a job as a CRC, professionals must have at least a four-year bachelor’s degree in a field such as medical technology, microbiology, or public health administration. However, some employers require an additional two-year master’s degree, particularly for management positions. Typical courses to take in preparation for this career include biochemistry, biostatistics, healthcare management, mathematics, epidemiology, and human anatomy. Essential job skills to possess for this job include management and communications experience, coupled with multi-tasking and interpersonal skills. Students may have to take and pass a licensing exam to become a clinical research coordinator. (See more on certification below.) Additionally, students may consider internships or entry-level jobs working as lab technicians or healthcare workers to get familiar with the typical working environment.

As the medical industry grows, college graduates (especially those with a master’s in clinical research) will be on the front lines of research and development. Students have a variety of career prospects in front of them with an education in clinical research, from medical scientists to natural sciences managers.

Continue reading for a comprehensive guide on how to achieve the various levels of a clinical research career, followed by helpful resources that can guide students and professionals as they navigate the process.

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Clinical Research Coordinator (CRC)

Becoming a clinical research coordinator takes many steps and there are varied career pathways available. Below are some of the primary steps to becoming a CRC at different phases of educational achievements.

Step 1: Graduate from high school (4 years).

Preparation for a career in clinical research coordination should begin with high school courses in chemistry, biology, physics, math, and communications, which will form a foundation for when the student moves on to college to pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Step 2: Obtain a bachelor’s degree (4 years).

When perusing colleges and universities, students should focus on those that offer a bachelor of science in health sciences in clinical research administration. Students should dedicate at least four years of full-time work for this degree. These programs generally provide clinical research professionals with the tools they need for developing medicines and conducting trials and studies. Both on-campus and online programs focus on critical administrative and scientific methods regarding clinical research and guidelines in place to protect human subjects.

George Washington University in Washington D.C., for example, offers a robust online program geared toward working health sciences and clinical research professionals looking to advance in their careers. Typical courses for a bachelor’s in this field include research and writing for health sciences, bioethics, healthcare in literature, informatics in the health sciences, biostatistics, healthcare law and regulation, basics of clinical research, health science management, and disease prevention and health promotion concepts.

A bachelor’s degree can lead to an entry-level position in a clinical organization or institution. It can also help existing clinicians advance within their current jobs. Students wishing to open up even more opportunities for responsibility and salary are encouraged to pursue professional experience and/or additional education.

Step 3: Gain work experience as a clinical research professional (at least 1 year).

At this stage, it’s advisable to garner at least one year of full-time experience working in a clinical research capacity. This is a typical requirement to qualify for national certification.

Step 4: Obtain an online graduate certificate (optional, 1 year).

Students can earn an online graduate certificate in clinical research administration. George Washington University offers an 18-credit-hour graduate certificate to strengthen career prospects while helping students hone their management skills for clinical research administration. All credits in certificate programs can be transferred into a master’s program within the same institution.

Arizona State University also offers a 15-credit online graduate certificate in clinical research management designed for nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals. Graduates are prepared for careers in many professions, from clinical research coordination and biostatistics to genetics and environmental studies.

Students can explore concentrations in scientific concepts, research design, participant safety considerations, medicines development, the study and site management, data management and informatics, leadership and professionalism, and communication and teamwork. This degree offers a strong concentration in clinical research financial and business practices, ethical research, and management skills related to drug and medical device trials.

Step 5: Get an online master of science in clinical research management (optional, 2 years).

Obtaining a master’s degree can increase one’s salary prospects and responsibilities within the field. For example, ASU’s master in clinical research management offers an online, 33-semester-hour program coupled with a two-day orientation program. A six-semester-hour clinical research project is also required. Typical courses include clinical research monitoring and fundamentals of regulatory affairs. By the conclusion of the program, students are prepared to seek careers as clinical research coordinators, as well as clinical data managers, social science research assistants, and clinical lab techs.

Step 6: Get certified (timeline varies).

It is strongly recommended for professionals in this field to be certified in clinical research. For example, the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA) offers an internationally-accepted certification for professionals to be recognized as Certified Clinical Research Professionals (CCRP®s). Students must pass an exam to get their certification. The exam schedule is varied and offers time slots at locations all over the country. There are three distinct pathways to be eligible for this exam. Applicants must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Category 1– Has two years of full-time experience as a clinical research professional (or 3,500 hours part-time during the previous five years)
  • Category 2 – Holds a degree in clinical research (associate, bachelor’s or master’s) and at least one year of full-time experience as a clinical research professional (or 1,750 hours part-time during the previous five years)
  • Category 3 – Holds an undergraduate or graduate certificate in clinical research (at least 12 semester-hours or 144 credit-hours); an associate or bachelor’s degree in a scientific (or related) field; and at least one year of full-time experience as a clinical research professional (or 1,750 hours part-time during the previous five years)

Alternatively, students can seek certification from the Association of Clinical Research Professionals, called the ACRP-CP®. There are three levels of certification: clinical research associate (CRA), clinical research coordinator (CRC), and principal investigator (PI). ACRP offers prep courses to help students prepare for each of the tests.

To be eligible for the CRA or CRC certification exam, candidates must have one of the following:

  • Option 1 – Bachelor’s degree (or higher) and submission of a detailed resume documenting as least 3,000 hours performing the designated duties, as described by the ACRP
  • Option 2 – LPN, LVN, RN, or associate degree and submission of detailed resume documenting as least 4,500 hours performing the designated duties, as described by the ACRP
  • Option 3 – Medical assistant, lab tech, or high school diploma and submission of detailed resume documenting as least 6,000 hours performing the designated duties, as described by the ACRP

Please note that there may be some substitutions for hours of qualifying work experience and that “designated duties” may differ by desired certification. Students can learn more about the ACRP’s exam, schedule, application and eligibility on the organization’s website.

Helpful Resources for Aspiring Clinical Research Coordinators

The following list of professional organizations can assist students and professionals as they seek a career in clinical research.

  • National Institutes of Health – The National Institutes of Health offers a course in clinical research training that focuses on the ethical issues involved in human subject research. It explores the role of the principal investigator and CRC as they conduct clinical research within the NIH intramural research program. The course also gives students knowledge of how clinical research works within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Topics include ethical issues, roles and responsibilities of investigators, researchers and institutions, regulatory issues, and clinical investigators and the mass media.
  • Harvard Catalyst Clinical Research Center – The HCCRC offers information for research coordinators. These resources address professional development, training and certifications, helpful tools, and core competencies for the clinical research professional.
  • International Association of Clinical Research Nurses – The IACRN is a professional nursing organization that defines, validates and advances clinical research nursing while supporting the professional development of registered nurses who work with clinical research participants.
  • Association of Clinical Research Professionals – The ACRP sets the standards for competence in clinical research. The organization is based in Washington D.C. and boasts 13,000 members supporting professionals with the membership, training and certification programs they need to maintain career excellence.
  • Oregon Health & Science University – OHSU’s website includes a variety of helpful organizations that can guide students as they gather information necessary to pursue a career in clinical research coordination.

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