So, what do you do?

Working at an academic medical center, the physicians in my division are continuously conducting clinical research to ultimately improve the lives of their patients. As a clinical research coordinator, I am responsible for facilitating all of this research. Coordinators are intimately involved in all phases of research, which can broadly be categorized in the following steps:

  1. Identify a question and develop a hypothesis
  2. Design the study and assess feasibility
  3. Gain approval for the study from the Institutional Review Board (IRB)
  4. Collect data (i.e. survey patients, review medical records, collect blood samples, etc.)
  5. Analyze and interpret data
  6. Publish and present findings

What does a typical day or (if there isn’t a typical day) week look like for you?

With every unique research question comes different responsibilities and methods for conducting that research, meaning every day is different depending on the studies I am working on at the time. Some days, I am in our clinics recruiting patients for our various studies. Other days, I am in the office designing data collection forms, auditing clinical data sets, reviewing electronic medical records, conducting statistical analyses, and writing manuscripts. Almost every day I can expect a meeting with clinicians and/or research staff to discuss the current state of a study, issues we are facing, and ideas for study advancement.

What are the most important skills/ experience when it comes to succeeding in your role?

Flexibility – It isn’t feasible to train research coordinators in every skill they will need for success simply because new, unexpected responsibilities arise every day. Consequently, successful research coordinators need to be quick learners. For example, clinical research naturally requires a strong understanding of medical jargon and statistical methods. This doesn’t necessarily mean one needs to have full knowledge of medical terminology and high-level stats going into the job, but one should at least be flexible enough to self-learn these necessary skills.
Patience – I probably struggle with this most… Research regularly takes prolonged periods of time to complete. This can be due to unforeseen problems with study design, difficulty recruiting patients, or delayed peer-reviews of manuscripts. Translating research findings to standard of care for patients can sometimes take years.

What’s the best part of your job?

The autonomy I have is by far the best part of my job. Going into this role, I mistakenly assumed that I would be assigned daily tasks and that I would be expected to report to my supervisors regularly. This certainly is not the case, as my supervisors rely on me to prioritize my own responsibilities. With this independence, I have gained critical professional skills in decision-making, leading meetings, and delegating tasks to large teams.

What’s the not-so-best part of your job?

Working on dozens of projects with several different physicians and research personnel can seem overwhelming at times. Not everything can be completed all at once. Fortunately for me, the teams I work with are understanding of my limited availability.

What’s a typical compensation range for someone in this role?

For entry-level and early-career clinical research coordinators, I would estimate between $40,000 and $60,000 per year. This varies by institution and years of experience.

What are 1-2 pieces of advice someone in breaking into this kind of job would need to know?

There is a lot of competition for clinical research positions, especially right out of college. Many college graduates are vying for clinical research jobs to better prepare them for higher education in healthcare someday. With this in mind, it is important to apply to as many openings as you can. Don’t limit yourself to research positions only in one or two specific fields. There’s a good chance that you will grow passionate about your research regardless of your prior interest or exposure. Apply a lot and apply early!

What should people know about your job or industry?

As mentioned before, working as a clinical research coordinator will instill lifelong lessons that can easily be translated into other fields. Whether you plan on pursuing research in your future or not, the skills gained while conducting research are powerful and unique for any career.

What do you eat for breakfast, and what do you wish you could eat for breakfast?

I eat a sad, sugar-free protein bar for breakfast… I wish I could eat a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel every day.

Nora Philbin

Nora is a co-founder of Happy Spectacular, which she still can't really believe, and she's on a lifelong quest for the world's best cheeseburger (applicants accepted).