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The Clinical Research Profession: Growing the Clinical Research Workforce

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

SennSays Interview with Susan Landis: Growing the Clinical Research Workforce

Christine Senn:

Our first interview in a series about workforce and clinical research could be with none other than the Executive Director of the Association of Clinical Research Professionals, our international trade organization, Susan Landis. I am excited because she does such a wonderful job of articulating the workforce problem we have. She is solution-oriented and has been working tirelessly since she joined ACRP to figure out ways to work with our community to create a pipeline for clinical research professionals. She is fantastic and you are going to hear many good ideas. This video is intended for everyone: new, up-and-coming and seasoned. Enjoy.

Susan Landis:

Thank you for having me join and thank you for inviting me to talk about this critical topic. Here's what we know: the industry is facing a global workforce crisis. And by industry, I mean across the board: sponsors, CROs, sites, and technology companies. We know that there is this glaring disconnect between the vision for transforming clinical research and the workforce that is diverse and ready to conduct that work. We have stats on this, and we published recently about this crisis. We know that protocols are more complex. We know that there are more trials than ever before. But we also know that there is a major shortfall in applicants -- almost a million applicants -- than there have been in the past years.

What we're trying to do is address the workforce challenge in a way that allows the industry to come together to define certain things that do not exist today. I like to say we are trying to go from, “I fell into clinical research,” which is what so many people say, to “I chose clinical research.” What does it mean for someone to say, “I chose clinical research?” It sounds like this:

I heard about this amazing career in clinical research, and I am choosing to enter that career. I am confident that I will be hired because I know what the pathway into the career is, to gain the qualifications I need to know, based on what the people hiring have determined. I'm in college studying for a career in clinical research, whether it's two years, four years, or a masters, or I'm taking the training that I need to take in order to be competent and to have the foundational knowledge I need and to be able to demonstrate that I can apply the foundational knowledge I need. I am delighted to have completed an internship that demonstrates I can apply the knowledge. I got hired today.

Where are the challenges in this? The challenges are that as an industry, we really have not come together to define the pathway into a career in clinical research. ACRP is addressing this. We certainly have not defined what a standard internship in clinical research is. What does that look like? The ACRP, through our partner, Advancing the Clinical Research Workforce Consortium, is coming together to define that. We have three objectives. Number 1is to build an identity for the clinical research profession. This is an amazing career to have. We know that, but not enough people know about it. We want to help put the steppingstones into opening doors to this career. What is the pathway to get into it? What training do you need to get into it? Then we want to work with industry stakeholders across the board for everybody to define what are the foundational qualifications that you must have to enter the clinical research industry as a clinical research professional. We are going to have a summit about that in February of the coming year to get CROs, sponsors, technology companies and placement firms together to redefine and define what it takes to start a career in clinical research.

Christine Senn:

What a brilliant overview and what a staggering statistic, frankly. What is curious to me as well is that I see on LinkedIn that people are wondering how to get into the profession. I am going to be interviewing people at clinical research sites, at IRBs, at CROs, to ask what they are looking for in people right now. If someone was to ask you about that path, would you have any words of advice for where we are today?

Susan Landis:

I can look at it from the positive perspective, which there are so many people out there who are qualified to be clinical researchers. I can also look at it from the gap perspective, which is: want to talk about a staggering statistic, there is no clinical research curriculum in any STEM program in the United States. We don't teach clinical research as a part of STEM. We like to say that it is a profession or a career “hidden in plain sight.”

We know what the contribution is of our clinical research professionals. We know what the contribution is to drug development, but we must bring it forward. I often think about the healthcare heroes that we talked a lot about during the COVID pandemic, but clinical research professionals are often left out of the healthcare hero recognition. We really need to do a better job of talking about careers in clinical research, and we believe one way to start that is getting clinical research in STEM programs. The other day, I was at a meeting at HCA, which is the largest private hospital provider in the country. They asked me if they should teach clinical research in nursing school. My answer was that we should give people in nursing school exposure to clinical research. We should give people in medical school exposure to clinical research. We have to do a better job at that.

Christine Senn:

Brilliant. Honestly, I have been wanting for so long to ask someone how they got into clinical research, and they tell me, “I chose it. When I was in high school, I knew clinical research” [Clinical researchers are] heroes, and for everyone to know it would be amazing.

I really want to thank you. I'm probably going to have to have you back, if you don't mind, at some point, because I love all the things that you do for this industry. I do have a question I'm asking everyone. I'm going to ask you-- and you are already passionate, so this is right in your wheelhouse-- what is exciting or amazing about working in clinical research?

Susan Landis:

I like to tell people, as you know, I am not a clinical researcher. My role in clinical research was through the patient engagement lens and through the marketing lens about developing the study teams to develop the recruiting materials, medical communications, and patient engagement materials. For me, what I love about working in clinical research, and the reason I chose this role at ACRP, is because I love the people who choose to work in clinical research. I have worked with some of the most amazing study teams, whether it was at Duke, DCRI, or Quintiles. What I get excited about in clinical research are the people who work in clinical research, because I would say 99% of the time, they are doing it to make a contribution to improve health outcomes for everybody.

Christine Senn:

I agree with you. There are really good people in this industry, people who really want to make a difference and try hard. It is a gorgeous industry to be in and it is worth the challenges and trying to overcome them because of the people and what we are trying to do. Susan, thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it. Thanks for all you do for ACRP as well.

Susan Landis:

And thanks for all that you do too. Thank you so much.

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