What is Clinical Data Management (CDM)?


Clinical data management (CDM) is the process of collecting and managing research data in accordance with regulatory standards to obtain quality information that is complete and error-free. The goal is to gather as much of such data for analysis as possible that adheres to federal, state, and local regulations.

The field of clinical data management (CDM) has come about due to demands from both the pharmaceutical industry and the regulatory authorities. As the drive to “fast-track” the development of pharmaceutical products continues to accelerate, regulatory entities have responded by requiring quality-assurance standards to be met in collecting the data used in the drug evaluation process.

Two such standards created by the Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium (CDISC) are particularly vital to CDM: the Study Data Tabulation Model Implementation Guide for Human Clinical Trials (SDTMIG) and the Clinical Data Acquisition Standards Harmonization (CDASH). The former is currently mandated for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The latter created a standard format for collecting data across studies so that data submissions can be more easily tracked and reviewed.

Specialized software applications are used in CDM to create audit trails that allow discrepancies to be minimized even in large and complex clinical trials. Examples include Oracle Clinical, Rave, eClinical suite, Clintrial, and Macro. Clinical data management systems (CDMS) are especially vital in trials conducted across medical centers in which an enormous amount of data is produced.

CDMSs can be customized and may be tailor-made in the case of large, multinational pharmaceutical companies looking for tools that address the needs of their specific companies. In addition, open-source tools such as TrailDB, open CDMS, OpenClinica, and PhOSCo are freely available and can be just as effective.

Set standards guide the work of CDM professionals because, as mentioned above, the information is used in the pharmaceutical industry to evaluate medicine. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 21 CFR Part 11, provides the compliance standards to which CDM systems must adhere.

What does it take to become a clinical data manager? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and O*NET, 85 percent of clinical data managers have a bachelor’s degree (O*NET 2021).

Between 2019 and 2029, the BLS (2021) projects that jobs for clinical laboratory technicians and technologists (a related field) will grow 7 percent nationally, which is double the average for all occupations in the country (4 percent). What’s more, it’s estimated that 24,700 new clinical data management positions will be needed nationwide, and the median annual salary for this position is $54,180.

Read on to learn about clinical data management workflow, professions, certifications, degree programs, and specializations.

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How Does Clinical Data Management (CDM) Work?

To maintain the integrity of data, the CDM process starts at the very beginning of a clinical trial, even before the study protocol is finalized. The CDM team designs a case report form (CRF) and defines the data fields to be utilized. CRFs specify the type of data to be collected, the units of measurement to be used, and CRF completion guidelines (i.e., instructions for filling in data). Variables are annotated using coded terms.

A data management plan (DMP) is then developed as a guide, including a description of the trial’s CDM activities. Databases are built to support CDM tasks with corresponding compliance tools. Testing is done before using the plan with actual clinical trial data. CFR tracking, data entry, validation, discrepancy management, medical coding, and database locking are subsequent steps in the process.

Case report forms may be used to collect data by paper or electronic means; however, as technology has continued to evolve, the trend towards electronic data collection has followed suit. Furthermore, remote data entry or e-CRF has been adopted by many pharmaceutical companies as a time-saving measure.

What Roles Are Involved in CDM?

CDM requires a variety of roles and responsibilities of team members and take the form of:

  • Data manager – supervises the CDM process
  • Database programmer or designer – performs the CRF annotation, creates the study database, enables data validation, designs data entry screens, and performs edit checks using dummy data
  • Medical coder – codes variations such as adverse events and medical history
  • Clinical data coordinator – designs the CRF, prepares the filling instructions, develops discrepancy protocols
  • Quality control associate – checks the accuracy of data entry and performs data audits
  • Data entry associate – tracks the receipt of CRF pages and enters data into a database

Clinical Data Management Certification

To become a certified clinical data manager (CCDM) and be recognized as a trained and qualified professional in this field, the Society for Clinical Data Management offers a certification program.

In addition to the personal and professional benefits that certification provides, such as receiving validation of one’s skills and expertise, earning certification comes with a variety of organizational benefits. These include having a competitive CDM team with the highest level of competence in the industry, stellar professional development opportunities, and optimizing the quality of company practices and outcomes.

To become a certified clinical data manager, applicants must have one of the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree or higher and at least two years of full-time CDM experience
  • An associate’s degree and three years of full-time CDM experience
  • Four years of full-time CDM experience
  • Part-time work experience that equals or exceeds the criteria mentioned above

Applicants do not need to be members of the Society for Clinical Data Management, nor do they need to be currently employed as a manager at the time of application. Once the electronic application and fees have been submitted, approved candidates will receive a letter of acceptance within 14 days and an eligibility number needed to schedule the exam. Candidates will have 30 days from the date stated on their acceptance letters to take the exam. The exam consists of 130 multiple choice questions and must be completed in three and a half hours. SCDM offers a variety of materials to assist candidates in preparing.

Clinical Data Management Degree Programs

The desired requirement for clinical data managers is an undergraduate degree in life sciences and knowledge of computer applications. However, a combination of formal study (associate’s or bachelor’s) and work experience may be accepted for management and other CDM positions.

Ideally, medical coders are med-tech program graduates, but paramedical and other healthcare professionals may be recruited for such roles. Clinical data managers usually have one or a combination of the following degrees:

  • Associate of science in life sciences or computer science, pharmacy, mathematics
  • Bachelor of science in life sciences (e.g., biology, cognitive science, ecology, microbiology, immunology, molecular genetics, neuroscience, physiology, psychobiology, psychology) or clinical research management
  • Post-master’s certificate in clinical data management or clinical trials in medical device and drug development
  • Master of science in clinical research organization and management
  • Doctor of nursing practice (DNP)
  • Doctor of philosophy (PhD) in clinical research

Drexel University’s nationally ranked College of Medicine offers two fully online programs in clinical research management.

Clinical Research Certificate: The 15-credit clinical research certificate program is designed for a wide range of professionals to earn clinical research credentials to move into a new career. This program can be completed in one to two years, and students can choose to apply these credits towards the master’s of science in clinical research organization & management. Applicants must already have a bachelor’s degree.

Master’s of Science in Clinical Research Organization & Management: The 36-credit graduate-level program is ideal for experienced research professionals wanting credentials and clinical management skills. The curriculum is customized for each student to meet specific career goals and courses are taught by industry experts. This program can be completed in two to three years and lead to a career in clinical data management.

Clinical Data Management Coursework & Specializations

Certificate and degree programs in CDM offer coursework in areas such as computational tools for clinical research, clinical trials management, applied biostatistics in clinical trials, and drug development from discovery to commercialization.

Master’s programs are focused on clinical research as a whole with the following specializations and coursework:


  • New product research and development
  • Regulatory compliance, ethics, and law
  • Biostatistics and data management
  • Clinical research management and safety surveillance
  • New therapeutic product business and strategic planning


  • Business processes and contemporary concerns in pharmaceutical R&D
  • Worldwide regulatory submissions
  • Introduction to clinical trials
  • Introduction to clinical pharmacology
  • Ethical issues in research
  • Medical device combination product regulation
  • The history of misconduct in biomedical research
  • Current issues in review boards
  • Current federal regulatory issues in biomedical research
  • Patient recruitment and informed consent
  • Pharmaceutical law
  • International regulatory affairs
  • Compliance and monitoring issues
  • Contemporary issues in human research protection
  • Quality assurance audits
  • Epidemiology
  • Applications of clinical research biostatistics
  • Clinical data management
  • Designing the clinical trial
  • Health policy and economics
  • Clinical outsourcing

Associations & Resources for Clinical Data Management

The Society for Clinical Data Management (SCDM) produces the Good Clinical Data Management Practices (GCDMP) guidelines outlining the standard of practice in the field. Last revised in July 2009, this document guides CDM professionals on the best practices that align with regulatory practice.

SCDM also administers the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) accredited certification program for clinical data managers, online and in-person educational opportunities, and career resources for both job-seekers and employers.

The Association for Clinical Data Management (ACDM) has been operating for the past 30 years. In addition to hosting annual conferences, the association offers training, resources, and professional development for those involved in all aspects of clinical data management in pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and academic research. The ACDM website also has a job board where corporate members can post CDM employment opportunities.

Rachel Drummond
Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).

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