The power of mentoring in the CRA career
Achieving a full circle career experience in clinical research is powerful. Error and accomplishment contribute to a full developmental process, and they demonstrate stepping beyond personal fears to achieve lifetime goals and hit that proverbial stride. My experience is proof of the positive influence that targeted mentoring can have on a fledgling career.
At the 2016 ACRP global conference, where I spoke on monitoring training and evaluation, my career path came full circle. The mentoring and training I received from a core group of key managers, at various points in my career, inspired the content presented and motivation for speaking. I was privileged to have several of these managers attend the training session I conducted. Their presence lent credence to the transformative properties of professional guidance, which inspired this column and the mentoring success stories I have included therein.
Mentoring story #1—The monitoring sign-off evaluation visit demonstrates monitoring proficiency and is pivotal to the career of a clinical research associate (CRA). It speaks to the commitment between the CRA and the employing research organization, and shows that the CRA is entrusted to autonomously monitor the investigational site with the organization’s training.
- As a mentor (not a supervisor), you should provide guidance, not instruction. Be careful that your advice is just that. If the individual being mentored feels ordered, it will merely alienate them.
- You are there to help the individual being mentored, no matter how trivial or daunting the request. It can be as inconsequential as providing a telephone number or as severe as
- helping report a protocol violation. In the end, mentoring is about the assistance you provide.
- Take into account the experience level of the individual you are mentoring, and direct effort to match the need.
- Never shy away from an opportunity to help a colleague. The smallest action can
- dramatically influence circumstance.
During my monitoring sign-off visit, I was reconciling the study drug compliance count on the patient-specific drug accountability log with the patient pill diary and noticed a discrepancy between the patients’ and nurses’ documentation. The patient had noted correct daily pill counts in the diary, but the nurse had noted a pill return count that signified severe noncompliance by the patient. After double-checking my count, it was clear that the study nurse had transposed two numbers on the log. I was confident in my finding but uneasy questioning a more experienced nurse about the error.
My manager allayed my insecurity with two simple words. “Trust yourself.” Her reassurance gave me the confidence to effectively discuss and clarify the error with the study nurse. I passed my evaluation and was promoted from CRA trainee to CRA. I emerged a stronger monitor and was inspired to become a CRA evaluator. This training methodology became not only my personal training philosophy, but also the basis for my ACRP presentation.
Mentoring story #2—My friend, Lisa, successfully traversed a challenging career path by sagely following the advice of more experienced colleagues. A bachelor’s degree in nursing and a diverse clinical research background (phase I to phase III investigational site management) did not guarantee the seamless transition to industry that Lisa expected. She was determined to move forward in her career as a CRA or nurse educator for a CRO and expressed this desire to her monitors.
One monitor reviewed her curriculum vitae and advised changes to highlight specific monitoring experience, such as informed consent and source document review. I advised on a realistic timeline, and urged her to continue applying for positions despite many rejections. It had taken me a year of continuous applying for CRA positions before I obtained an entry-level position.
For almost two years, Lisa applied for jobs such as trials assistant, CRA trainee and regulatory document specialist before obtaining a study educator position for a CRO. Though at times she felt disheartened, she persevered due to the support of her mentors.
Mentoring story #3—Approximately five years into my CRA career, I had the privilege of participating in a mentoring program sponsored by the CRO where I worked. Experienced CRAs were paired with new CRA employees to provide support during their probationary period. The CRA’s experience determined the level of mentoring that was needed. The program helped augment the workload of the CRA manager during the onboarding process to ensure that no need was overlooked.
The organizational principles were consistent, but the level and duration of assistance evolved with the respective relationship, and the support provided by the mentoring program during the probationary period built organizational confidence and retention. The CRA with whom I was paired to mentor was extremely experienced. During the course of our relationship she had very few requests of me. Despite her independence, I let her know in little ways that I was available to help her. An email, a voice mail, even the smallest gesture reminded her that I was available if she needed me. Several years after that, I connected with this CRA on social media. Her first post reinforced the far-reaching impact of mentoring. “You were the CRA assigned to help me when I worked at XYZ CRO. That made such a difference.”
The transformative power of mentoring to instill confidence has the potential to bring a career full circle, and forge friendships to last a career lifetime.
Elizabeth Blair Weeks-Rowe, LVN, CCRA, has spent nearly 14 years in a variety of clinical research roles including CRA, CRA trainer, CRA manager and clinical research writer. Currently she works in relationship development/study startup in the CRO industry. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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