The Association of Clinical Research Professionals and the Society of Clinical Research Associates both offer credentials for professionals in the field. A bachelor's degree in nursing does meet licensure requirements for graduates to become registered nurses (RNs), which qualifies individuals for the specialized certification. Bridge programs, such as an RN-to-Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), require previous nursing education for admission and include lab and nursing practica. Nursing students complete traditional classroom courses, laboratory experiences, and a clinical practicum in a medical setting, which includes a hospital, assisted living facility, and long term care center.
For specific education in clinical research, trained RNs enroll in graduate certificate and degree programs. Students are introduced to case studies, ethical research practices, and financial matters affecting the design, implementation, and funding of clinical research trials in graduate certificate programs. In a master's program, studies in research ethics direct students towards ethical research practices, including a discussion of human rights, misconduct, and conflicts of interest. Graduate programs will include quantitative research and a capstone project.
All programs will require an RN license to enroll, especially an RN-to-BSN program. Master's and graduate certificates will need students to complete a bachelor's degree with sufficient prerequisite coursework in the field. In addition, they will need letters of recommendation or reference, a personal statement, and GRE scores.
RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing
RNs wishing to become certified clinical research nurses qualify for certification by first earning a bachelor's degree in nursing, then enrolling in a specialized clinical research graduate certificate program. RN-to-BSN completion programs, designed for those who already hold diplomas or associate's degrees in nursing, explore nursing theories, applications, professional practices, and management. Subjects covered in the nursing program include pharmacology, health assessment, health promotion, mental health, and gerontology.
Coursework covers a broad range of nursing topics, including wellness, disease prevention, epidemiology, and case management. Other topics include:
- Nurse management
- Community assessment
- Human development
- Drug classifications
- Mental health
Graduate Certificate in Clinical Research Management
Designed for working professionals, the program prepares nurses to perform clinical research and take on greater leadership roles, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry. The curriculum includes study of emerging technologies and research methods advancing the field of clinical research. Course requirements include conducting research to enhance the pharmaceutical industry's ability to develop effective clinical trials and new prescription medications. Other topics include:
- Ethical standards
- Federal regulations
- Clinical research finance
- Clinical trial management
Master of Science in Clinical Research Management
Offered at several colleges of nursing throughout the U.S., the program includes a research-intensive curriculum with coursework in clinical research practice and design. Subjects include project management, research conduct and management, biostatistics, and quantitative research. A course in research costs introduces students to budgeting in clinical research, and a regulatory course explores national and international regulations on clinical trials.
As a research-based program, students dedicate a substantial amount of time to the advancement of clinical research, including preparing research studies for publication. Topics of discussion include:
- Cost-effective analysis
- Resource allocation
- Data analysis
- Quality improvement
- Contract negotiations
Popular Career Options
Graduates of clinical research degrees and certification training go on to careers in a variety of settings, including healthcare organizations, pharmaceutical companies, research facilities, hospitals, and more. Popular career options for graduates include:
- Clinical research nurse
- Clinical trial coordinator
- Clinical research manager
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs held over 3.3 million jobs in the U.S. in 2019 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that jobs in this profession would grow by 7% between the years 2019 and 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. The median annual salary for an RN as of May 2020 was $75,330.
According to February 2021 PayScale statistics, clinical research specialists earned a median annual salary of $56,000. The salary ranges from $39,000 to $91,000 per year based on skill (www.payscale.com).
Continuing Education Information
To qualify for certification as a clinical research professional, students can combine an undergraduate degree in nursing with a specialized graduate certificate in clinical research management. Graduate certificates cover research skills, ethical principles, and leadership techniques. At least one year's work experience in a research position is also required.
Graduates can pursue the CCRP designation through the Society of Clinical Research Associates. Applicants are required to take a re-certification quiz and complete 45 hours of continuing education credits every three years to maintain certification. The International Association of Clinical Research Nurses offers numerous continuing education opportunities to its members, including conferences, online courses, scholarships, focus groups, and career services.
Clinical research nurses can earn certification through RN-to-BSN programs, master's degrees, or graduate certificate programs. Each of these programs can qualify students for a number of jobs in the healthcare field, and graduates can improve their options further through the CCRP designation.