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The Clinical Research Profession: Gaining CRA Experience with Internships

With Special Guest Tommy Lampley

Christine Senn: 

Introduction: 

Today I want to welcome back my friend Tommy Lampley, who's an experienced CRA. Today's video is really targeted at companies-- clinical research sites, CROs, and sponsors.  I think what we talk about today regarding internships is a very important way that companies could help not just the professionalization of our industry, but also create career paths for people in clinical research. In Part 1 you heard Tommy's story about why his internship was so important to him. He was at the site level and he became a CRA, and he learned what he liked. I think it's a great story about what we could accomplish if we structured internships throughout our companies.  

 

With Tommy Lampley: 

I'd like to switch gears to internships. It was something you brought up that I think is important for us to follow up on because you've been able to explain to us what a CRA does and maybe some pathways to get there. One of the things I talked about with Susan Landis, the Executive Director of ACRP, is that she would like to see formal internship programs in the industry so that we have a way to show people how to get into clinical research. I know you've met a lot of people over the years at different sponsors and CROs sites. Do you see internships around very much? And if so, where? 

 

Tommy Lampley: 

Yes, as you mentioned previously, that's one of the big gaps I think in the industry. Had I not been exposed to the industry in general in graduate school, I don't know that I would ever know that it even existed. You don't see them very often. I have seen, at different periods, CROs having what they call a bridge program, and that will be like a bridge from a CRC to a CRA. I've even seen pay-for-play programs, if you will, that allow you to learn a CRA skillset. It's usually an academy-based curriculum online that you go through. Then the vendor may place you with a site or maybe with a staffing organization and allow you to get experience in that route. But you don't typically see traditional internships, particularly internships like the one I had, that I know of. I think that's one of the gaps in the industry, and it's interesting that it is a gap because there's a resourcing issue in the industry at the site level, at the CRO level, at the sponsor level. There is a shortage of individuals with the skillset to monitor studies and with the skillset to coordinate studies. I think part of the reason that you have that shortage is individuals may leave coordination to become monitors, leaving a shortage of CRCs.  Individuals may get burned out as CRAs because the job can be very intense, after a period of time, with all the travel. With that, you want to have a method of bringing new individuals with certain backgrounds like nursing students, or maybe pre-med students, that have an interest in contributing to the advancement of medicine, but just don't know that this industry is available. 

 

Christine Senn: 

Perfect. Thank you. I have a question that I'm asking everyone: what is exciting or amazing about working in clinical research? 

 

Tommy Lampley: 

For me, it's the fact that every day is different. As a CRA, and I think it is pretty standard across every part of the industry, is that there's something different happening at each site. You have different patients at each site that have their own story. And even though as a CRA, you don't necessarily engage directly with the story, in oncology you do, because you read patient charts, you read progress notes. You're reviewing a journey, albeit through reading material, but it's essentially following along a scientific journey to see whether this drug works. You're almost a gatekeeper, if you will, to say, “hey, you know, that doesn't look right,” or, “wow, this patient is really responding.” 

It's having the opportunity to be a part of that overall process. We see drugs get approved, we see drugs not get approved, but to be a part of that lifeblood, or that lifecycle, of medicine going forward or drugs that don't work. I think it's riveting. It keeps me going, with multiple screens, making sure I'm reviewing data and being responsive to the various parties that are involved in this intricate process. 

 

Christine Senn: 

I love that. I love that you thought of the patients and their stories because so many times people think monitoring is only about the data, but the data is a human story seen through the lens of a protocol. That was gorgeous. Thank you so much, Tommy. I really, really appreciate you. 

 

Tommy Lampley: 

Absolutely. 

 




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