Lead CRA Q&A: CRA Work/Life Balance

You are being monitored

I recently received an email from a blog follower asking how I maintain work/life balance as a traveling CRA and whether I get paid more when the weeks are longer. The email is a little ironic as I actually have been really under-utilized lately and have spent most of the past 3 months sitting at home pushing papers around and trying to think of billable work to do. I am currently assigned to 1 study and I only have 2 sites enrolling – I can drive to both of them and visits are only every 4-6 weeks so I’ve been doing some co-monitoring and asking my manager to help me find more work or an additional assignment. You have to be careful what you ask for…I could be very busy again soon.

In any case, I’ve been monitoring for about three years and I have done a lot of traveling (if not lately) so I was definitely able to address the reader’s question and I will summarize my response for you all.

I work for a CRO and I am paid the same salary regardless of how many hours I work. It is normal for me to work 10-15 hours over 40 and not be paid. This happens because I have to stay on top of my reports, there are unexpected layovers when traveling, or there is just a lot of work to do and you have to be flexible. It is important to have a good dialogue with your manager and make sure that every week isn’t a 60 hour week – that is not in your best interest or the companies best interest because you will burn out.

Hotel_Away From Home
On average I travel 3-4 days each week and spend a couple of nights at hotels away from home.

Once you have 5+ years or so of experience you may choose to work as an hourly consultant. However, while you are new and learning, typically you take a salary job. The trade is that if you work for a large company they provide structured training so you are gracious about working the extra hours because the experience you are getting is so valuable. Also, I typically only work on 1 or 2 studies at a time so naturally my work ebbs and flows. For example, this month I had a lot of trips back and forth to the East Coast (9+ hours travel time each way) but last month I was just working at sites near my house so I traveled only about 10 hours collectively the entire month.

When you travel all week sometimes the last thing you want to do is go out with your friends or plan personal trips so you have to make the effort and be sociable even if you are tired. The travel does get in the way of me taking continuing education courses at the community or local college since I am typically on the road on weekdays. A membership to a local gym would be wasted on me since I am never home – I just make sure I stay at hotels with nice gyms. Sometimes I miss Happy Hours with my friends or important networking events or ACRP meetings because I am not in town. When you are at home you may not want to eat out, upkeep the house, or take care of all your other ‘real-world’ responsibilities. However, you have to compromise and do these things as you can because you love the people at home and want to make them happy – even though you may be exhausted. Plus, when your home is a sanctuary from the road you’ll feel better and more relaxed, too.

You may not be able to own a pet or a plant because you just won’t be home to take care of them. 

That negative stuff stated, I won’t travel 85% of the time forever. This is just for another 2-3 years until I step into a Lead role that requires less travel or work towards Project Management. If I go independent I could just make my schedule such that I don’t travel Mondays or whatever I like and that would keep the hours within reason. I’m compensated well and I am developing great career skills and networking connections so the travel is in balance for me. Not everyone is cut out to be a road warrior but I still fancy it. There is no substitute for experience and I am gaining that everytime I travel and visit a site.

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.


  • Anonymous

    April 18, 2015

    Your blog is very helpful Nadia! I am wondering if traveling is drastically less at the management and director positions. I am under the assumption that managers do not travel as much as that is left to the monitors on their team. Traveling is a big concern for a career in clinical research. Very hard to be away from spouse for a few days and leave it to him/her to hold down the fort. Thank you

  • Anonymous

    August 15, 2011

    Thanks Nadia, your insight is very helpful.

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