How I got here: CRA career

Today I am reflecting on how I started my CRA career and thought I would share the specifics of how I ended up where I am today.

I did an internship for the marketing department at a large pharmaceutical company all through college and then went to England my final semester to finish school and earn my degree in Business Management (coursework in Marketing and Computer Science). When I returned to the states I worked full time as a Clinical Project Assistant contractor at a large CRO for a few months doing patient recruitment, supporting the PIs when they had protocol or IVRS questions, managing study materials (CRFs, mailings, etc.), and performing Quality of Life (QOL) assessments to enrolled patients via the telephone. I wanted a permanent position so I joined a large specialty biotech working in commercial field sales support. After a few years, I was up for a promotion and relocation to another state, however, my boyfriend had an offer to move to San Francisco with his employer so I left on good terms and relocated with him.

I had been taking pre-requisites for nursing school before we relocated but eventually decided that stepping out of the workforce for up to 2 years would cost me more than the gains in salary the RN credentials would give me so I abandoned my plans to get the RN BSN. In the Bay Area, I worked at a small data management firm and then a company that created EDC software. In these positions, I built databases, developed/programmed edit checks, and validated databases for various studies in multiple therapeutic areas such as oncology, device, cardiac, etc.

From there I moved on to an in-house Data Management position and provided support for biostats and managed external vendors. I knew I wanted a CRA career because I felt I could offer a lot in the role. I made connections with the clinical group and networked my way into an open in-house CRA position.

Leaping into Clinical Operations CRA career

It can be a big leap to move into a CRA career

In order to prove my commitment to the CRA career trek, I took CRA training courses at the extension college for the rest of that year. There is no substitute for experience in a CRA career so I had to be prepared to take a pay cut. I decided to approach it like going back to college. I couldn’t exactly take out a student loan, so I just managed the best I could and made sacrifices like lowering my contributions to my 401K, living a little more meager, skipping Starbucks, etc. I read a lot of Suze Orman, complained to my girlfriends, and in time I had the experience I needed to merit pay increases and an eventual salary adjustment. I had to ask for all of these things, but fortunately for me, my bosses have been nothing if not overall fair and reasonable.

I travelled both domestically and internationally for that job and I loved it but my primary responsibilities were trial fiscal management, protocol development, and overseeing the contract monitors. I was so eager to be out monitoring more on my own that I moved on to a large CRO and now I travel all the time and love it! Ultimately I want to be an Independent Consultant and eventually provide more Sr. level CRA services. I know it would be a great gig for me because I am experienced in this industry, an excellent communicator, willing and able to travel, tech savvy, and self-motivated but that is still several years down the road.

I hope you find my story helpful if you are trying to get your foot in the door as a CRA. It took me several years of networking and determination but I am thrilled to pieces with my job and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Learn about how others at ClinOps Toolkit, like our volunteer guest author Herman, were able to navigate into a career in clinical operations.

About The Author

The Lead CRA

Nadia started The Lead CRA blog in 2007. She is now lead author for ClinOps Toolkit. Nadia is currently working as a Clinical Program Manager at a small specialty pharmaceutical company in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach Nadia via email at [email protected] anytime.


  • Sumraiz Mehmud

    May 6, 2015

    Great Inspirational story, I’m currently a Research Coordinator and hoping to take the stepping stone into a CRA position at a CRO. Hopefully my Journey continues like your article. Thank you for posting other tips and advice. Will definitely take those with me.

  • Haile

    January 25, 2014

    Once again I have come across another great article of yours. You are such a natural writer. I can picture exactly what you write! Honestly, reading this has given me so much inspiration. Thank you and please don’t stop writing. I’m sure whatever you write will be helpful when I reach my goal of becoming a CRA. 🙂 #onlinementor

    • Nadia


      February 7, 2014

      Haile, I have fun looking back through the old posts and it is wonderful hear that they are helpful to others. I am passionate about Clinical Operations and sharing that with others comes naturally. My co-workers are constantly telling me to be quiet. 😉 I really appreciate the time you took to read the blog, leave the comments, and also for subscribing. I’m grateful for your invitation to connect via the email newsletter. Good luck as you pursue your ideal CRA role.

    • Johnny

      October 9, 2016

      Unbelievable how well-written and informative this was.

  • Ellen Downey

    January 6, 2009

    Dear Nadia,

    I am a recruiter, and I just came across your blog. You are a wonderful writer and I read your entries with great interest. I am always fascinated by what makes someone interested in their job and what makes them great at their job. Thank you for shining a light onto that.

    I wish you the best in your career and the best for 2009.

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