How can you get your first job in clinical trials?

Once upon a time, pharmaceutical companies invested in training apprentices for the clinical research sector; nowadays, the industry is more diffuse, with contract organisations providing many of the clinical research professionals who coordinate clinical trials across the UK and many other parts of the world.


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How do you get yourself onto the books of a contract research organization? How do you land a more permanent job in clinical trials? Firstly, you need a science-, pharmacy- or medicine-based degree, or a background in nursing. If possible, do a year in industry as part of your degree or master’s, as this can gain you the practical experience that is so desirable even for entry-level jobs in the clinical trials industry.

If you have already obtained a degree, you can go on to do postgraduate studies in clinical trials. Several UK universities offer this as an option. These courses introduce you to the regulatory framework of clinical trials administration, including GCP and how to deal with ethics committees.


Whichever course you choose, make sure that it has the practical element that is so essential in landing your first clinical research job. Another way of getting practical experience is as a nurse working in a cancer centre, for example. Even if you are not currently working in clinical trials, you could ask to shadow colleagues who do. You could also volunteer alongside research associates to get a better idea of how they work. Your willingness to volunteer will not only be a learning curve but will also impress prospective employers because it demonstrates your determination to get involved.

If you are new to clinical trials, you will probably be looking for a position as a clinical research associate, or CRA, within a contract research organization such as This is an entry-level position but one that requires theoretical knowledge, understanding of the business model of clinical trials, and practical hands-on experience. This is why a background in nursing or pharmaceuticals is desirable.

Nurses can also move into the clinical trials industry by applying to work as a clinical trials coordinator. This position does not always require a nursing background; however, many do, as this role involves the practical, organisational skills of running a clinical trial within a hospital setting.