How to Become a Clinical Research Associate

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A clinical research associate acts as a liaison between research sponsors and the clinics conducting research. Here’s how you can become one.

[Featured image] A nurse in a blue uniform with a stethoscope around her neck is standing in a hospital office.

Every pill, vaccine, procedure, therapy, or medical device that might be prescribed or used to improve physical or mental health undergoes clinical research trials. During these trials, a drug or a medical device might get approved for consumer or hospital use. 

Clinical research associates (CRA) play a critical role in the health care industry and in improving public health. They liaise between those who sponsor research and those who facilitate clinical research. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, rising population density and international travel have increased the spread of new and existing diseases. Clinical research is necessary to gain evidence-based insights on how well a drug or vaccine does.

A career as a clinical research associate can be rewarding for individuals who are excited by the prospect of a dynamic role overseeing many different kinds of clinical trials. Here’s how to get started.

What is a clinical research associate?

Clinical research associates act as liaisons between the institutions that sponsor and fund the clinical research trials and the clinics that conduct the research. They're in charge of ensuring the clinical trials run smoothly, monitoring all the procedures, processes, and results, and ensuring the researchers follow established guidelines and protocols at every step. 

A clinical research associate works on behalf of the sponsor (pharmaceutical company, university, or health organization) or for a contract research organization (CRO) that funds the research. Clinical trials are the long, scientific process of ensuring that certain drugs, therapies, and devices are safe and effective for public consumption and use. CRAs guide the trials forward following ethics and safety regulations.

Clinical research associate job description

As a clinical research associate, these are the typical tasks and responsibilities:

  • Monitor the clinical research process, including managing supplies and coordination

  • Oversee data collection and documentation and input data into systems databases

  • Outline the trial objectives and present the trial protocols to a committee

  • Coordinate with an ethics committee that protects trial subject confidentiality

  • Prepare post-trial reports and manage the creation of publications

Where you’ll work

Field-based CRAs travel to different locations to deal with medical professionals in clinics or hospitals. Some CROs hire in-house CRAs to focus only on document review and management, making only occasional site visits.


Skills needed

Clinical research associates need certain skills to get hired and be successful in their roles. Whether or not you currently possess these skills, you can learn and acquire them through online courses or on the job. Some important skills you’ll need include: 

  • Administrative skills, including the ability to document important information accurately

  • IT and computer skills, such as databases and systems management

  • Written and oral communication skills

  • Keen attention to detail and organization

  • Ability to manage and coordinate with several stakeholders

  • Strong understanding of the clinical research trials and health care space, along with medical terminology

Clinical research associate salary and job outlook

The salary for a clinical research associate can vary depending on the organization you work for and your experience level. According to Glassdoor, clinical research associates in Canada earn an average salary of $73,209 [1]. The job outlook for clinical research associates is projected to be moderate to good in nearly all provinces and territories in Canada through 2026, according to the Job Bank [2].

How to become a clinical research associate.

A CRA career can be fulfilling because you are essentially part translator, part project manager, and part administrator for trials that have the potential to save lives. Here’s how to get started as a clinical research associate.

1. Qualify for certification.

You can take several paths to becoming a certified CRA in Canada. One path is to earn a high school diploma and clock 3,000 to 3,500 part-time hours of work experience in the field. At least one of those years of part-time work must be in Canada and must have been within the past five years. This work is typically in a supporting role, helping experienced CRAs. Your tasks will likely start mundane, but you will get more advanced assignments as you gain experience. 

Another path is to graduate high school and gain two years of qualifying experience—again, typically in a support role—in the last five years. 

The third path is to earn a post-graduate certificate in clinical research and then earn at least one year of Canadian clinical research working experience in the last two years. 

To enrol in a post-graduate certificate program, you will need a bachelor’s degree in health sciences or to be a registered nurse or registered in another regulated health profession. You can also qualify with a certification with a recognized body in health technology or if you’re currently employed in clinical research. 

2. Get certified.

After qualifying, you are eligible to sit for the Certified Clinical Research Professionals Society (CCRPS) CRA certification exam. The CRA course and exam costs USD$450. 

3. Apply for jobs.

You can start applying for jobs when you have the necessary qualifications to become a CRA. Visit job sites such as Indeed or LinkedIn and type in “clinical research associate” to search for entry- or junior-level positions.

Enhance your resume with any health-care-related experiences you may have, including volunteer activities and internships. You’ll want to quantify your accomplishments with statements such as “I managed clinical trials in seven different states in 2020.”

Prepare for interviews by researching the company and preparing your best answers. Don’t forget to write a list of questions to ask your interviewer. 

4. Continue learning.

Earning a master’s degree can help you land a managerial position or salary boost as a CRA. Many types of organizations need clinical research associates, so pursuing higher education can lead to more interesting and dynamic job opportunities. 

Start your health care career with Coursera.

Launch your career in the health care industry by honing your skills in medical terminology. You’ll be able to identify parts of words commonly used in medicine, understand health records, and more with the Medical Terminology specialization from Rice University.

Article sources


Glassdoor. "Clinical Research Associate Salaries in Canada,,6_IN3_KO7,34.htm" Accessed April 23, 2024.

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