“Necessity is the mother of invention.”
It’s a timeless phrase, still meaningful in this modern era. And like the drive for drug discovery, we must be relentless to stay relevant in our careers, which require creative solutions under duress. Under challenging circumstances, some individuals adapt to survive. Others evolve and improve to thrive.
I recently met a study coordinator (SC) during a site assessment visit who, when faced with career uncertainty, changed her paradigm and built a thriving business based on her passion for clinical research. She took a risk for career independence as opposed to the safe, lateral move to a comparable position—and, in the process, built the business of her dreams.
How to expand, and adapt, to ensure job security
I walked into the third-floor pulmonary practice for the monitoring visit, and was greeted by the SC. Prompt and prepared, she had printed protocol slides and an agenda on her desk.
Her office suited both administrative and clinical function. Near her desk was a large examination table with a starched cover. Hospital-grade vital signs monitoring equipment, spirometer, pulse oximetry and ECG machine were laid methodically on a clean countertop—all required for my visit confirmation. I was impressed.
While obtaining the SC’s experience, I discovered the fascinating journey that took her from managing a PI’s clinical trials practice to running a successful research organization, supplying SCs and administrative staff to investigators interested in clinical trials, but lacking resources to participate. Her story demonstrated ingenuity and fortitude—critical skills to ensure success in clinical research and in life. Here’s her story:
In late 2010, a glimmer of economic recovery was seen in the clinical trials space. But funding and resources were still scarce in the wake of a recession that had affected the seemingly untouchable pharmaceutical industry. Physician practices participating in clinical trials were understandably affected. At the practice where the SC worked, two trials in startup had lost funding. The remaining trial was in a follow-up phase; which left the SC with a diminished workload. And despite the reassurances of her employer, the SC felt apprehension—about job security, marketable skills and her future.
The marketplace demanded versatility. People with a singular skill set were becoming replaceable. The SC was well-trained, with strong clinical skills, but she did not complete regulatory documents or negotiate contracts; that task was completed by the PI’s office manager. The SC could conceivably be replaced by someone cross-trained in the clinical and administrative aspects of study conduct. She had to change things lest she end up unemployed.
And thus came a risky but brilliant plan: The SC would exceed mere adaptation. She would evolve to broaden her skill set, establish independence and flourish in a changing time.
She asked the office manager to help her learn the contract and regulatory aspects of a clinical trial, so she could assist her burgeoning workload. She paid close attention to the business administrative aspects of study conduct: networking, accounting, budgets, reimbursement, staffing. She quickly grasped the critical importance of relationship development and engagement. She was determined to make an impactful impression on everyone with whom she dealt so they desired to work with her again. It was all part of her master plan: to develop herself first, and her business later.
She had learned a cruel yet important lesson from the recession: the importance of her position not being subject to another’s whimsy or motivation. She would be in command of her career, insomuch as success would depend on her efforts and inspiration.
She spent several years pursuing every educational opportunity to diversify her clinical and administrative research skill set. The commitment of long hours (including weekends) it took to broaden her knowledge base was worth it. Her skills ultimately encompassed the data management, safety reporting, regulatory, clinical and business aspects of a clinical trials business. She developed SC and physician contacts, and strengthened relationships with her monitors; she delivered credible data and an exceptional work ethic. Using her amassed skills and contacts, she developed a business plan—and then the most important component began.
She started pairing trained SCs with willing physician investigators lacking those resources. A physician made an inquiry about research; the SC provided staffing for his trial. He provided a work area to suit the administrative and clinical responsibilities, resulting in a successful pairing that defined her business plan of providing staff to investigators who could provide infrastructure. She now employs 20 staffers. Her life is hectic but rewarding, for she is thriving in a business model that requires her diverse skill set, in a field that captures her passion for, and belief in, clinical research.
Adapt to survive. Evolve to thrive.
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 email@example.com.
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