How to Make a Career in Clinical Research


Canada, and Montreal in particular, is the Eldorado of clinical research. It is a paradise for qualified nurses as well as for health professionals with a variety of profiles, who can become associates or coordinators for clinical research. Steps to take.

Although there is a certain pool of clinical research jobs directly within the major pharmaceutical companies, most vacancies are with what are called “contract research organizations”, research centres conducting studies on humans, the best known being Algorithme Pharma and Syneos (formerly Anapharm). There, well-trained general nurses will be welcomed with open arms, whether or not they have acquired experience in the public health system. Of course, general practitioner physicians work there as well.

Each clinical study is also headed by a Clinical Research Associate (CRA), assisted by a coordinator. Both are involved in preparation and conduct of studies as well as in the subsequent steps of verification and analysis of the results. The Montreal Jewish General Hospital, one of the public institutions devoted in part to clinical research, states on its website that CRAs “must, among other things, ensure that the protocols and detailed plans for medical tests adhere to regulatory and ethical standards”.

Many are also responsible for “formulation and writing of research protocols, and designing forms for collection of data, while managing administrative tasks and applications”. CRAs are also in constant contact with patients, to ensure their well-being during their participation in various studies.

Scientists with great practical sense

Most CRAs or coordinators have a bachelor’s degree in health science or in a discipline related to health, such as biochemistry or pharmacology. Sometimes nurses with long experience in clinical research may be considered for these positions – they will then have to prove that they are aware of Health Canada requirements and Good Clinical Practices (GCP), and that they are familiar with the requirements of the local ethics committee.

However, there is a shortcut to these professions for newcomers with university degrees or for health professionals who have worked in related fields: the DESS in Drug Development (only offered in Quebec). Across the country, organizations such as the Groupe Accès-Partout offer various training programs, including internships and mentoring.

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