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Improve your CR site's staff recruitment and retention by following these tips
Put some added-value into career
Most clinical trial managers face the familiar problem of finding the right employees to handle increasingly difficult clinical research work and then keeping the best employees for more than a year or two.
While this is a challenge, it's not insurmountable.
Several experienced CR managers explain some of their strategies for improving staff recruitment and retention. Here are their suggestions:
• Constantly watch for the right person: It's a good idea to advertise and interview for jobs, even when there are no openings, suggests Tamara Dowd Owen, RN, MSN, MBA, director of clinical trials at Pinehurst Medical Clinic in Pinehurst, NC.
Although the Pinehurst CR associate staff numbers five, Owen has conducted a job interview about every three months and has frequently advertised for employees.
"What we've tried to do is be proactive," Owen says. "So even if we don't have a spot, we'll interview candidates."
You never know when the ideal candidate will come along and when a clinical research associate will resign, Owen says.
"We've talked about creating back-up PRN positions, but we haven't had any luck with those because they're hard to fill," Owen adds.
• Fight for higher salaries: The biggest obstacle to finding the best clinical research associate is a salary that's too low for the potential employee's experience and training level, Owen says.
It's worth pushing for higher salaries since CR sites have to compete with CROs and pharmaceutical companies who are larger and have the resources to offer higher salaries.
"One thing we've done is revisit our pay scales and we requested the human resources department to do a market analysis and make the necessary changes based on that analysis," says Ramesh Gunawardena, MBA, director of the clinical trial operations in the clinical trial office of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA.
"That strategy has narrowed the gap between industry and ourselves, as well as eliminating geographic differences, as well," Gunawardena says.
Another strategy is to offer bonuses.
Some CR sites will offer incentive bonuses to staff when the site meets its goals for the year, and others might offer sign-on bonuses.
"We haven't offered sign-on bonuses yet, but we've had that discussion," Owen says.
Even nursing salaries vary across the United States, so CR sites will have to come up with a salary that's competitive for their regions, suggests Elizabeth E. Hill, PhD, RN, associate chief of staff for research at the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System in Reno, NV.
"If you want to hire strong nurses for research, then you'll have to offer them a little more than what they're paid in basic nursing," Hill says.
• Give CR staff some added value to jobs: "The other thing we've tried to do is enhance the value of the job, as opposed to having CR associates just come in and do the protocol and submit paperwork," Gunawardena says.
"We've tried to add some value to the job," he explains. "We've done that by adding more internalized training programs, mentoring programs, full career development, and add some value to the job so that the work won't seem to be unappreciated."
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center also has a program called the study coordinator round, which is like grand rounds for medical professionals, Gunawardena says.
Study coordinators and also physicians will present information about certain research topics related to clinical trials, he explains.
Conducting the educational session is appealing to study coordinators, and the lunch time event typically has a good attendance, Gunawardena adds.
"It gives coordinators a speaking engagement to put on their resume to add value, and it's a great opportunity to have the experience of public speaking," he says. "It's something they can learn from as well."
With this type of added value to the CR job, the employee might decide to stay a little longer.
"Even those people who are coming into the job knowing they might go to nursing school or medical school, maybe they'll postpone it for a year or two," Gunawardena says.
Educational sessions add value to CR staff jobs, and they also ensure that employees are knowledgeable and well-trained.
"We've revamped our training program a couple of times, and we're working on it again," Owen says. "We're putting in some measurable criteria so that within a 90-day period, staff can sign-off on certain tasks."
The idea is to have metrics in place and to make certain CR employees are exposed to everything on the priority list, she adds.
• Develop a career track for new employees: "We've changed the structure within our department, so if you started out as a research assistant you can be at levels one or two, and then you move to CRC-1," Owen says. "If you started working here without any experience, then this has been good for your career."
For senior clinical research coordinators, there's the option of giving them their own site to manage, Owen adds.
"A lot of people like that if they've wanted the opportunity and have not had that before," Owen says. "The good employees will stay, and those who are unsure will go."
The Beth Israel research site has traditionally had an extremely high turnover rate with a vacancy rate once of about 12 employees, Gunawardena says.
This experience led to changes in how the CR job track was structured.
"Over the course of two years, we've added value to these programs and created another level within the job category to improve the career path," Gunawardena says.
Now there are four job levels with adjusted pay scales according to those levels, he adds.
"This gives employees a chance to stay here for four years and maybe jump up a pay level each year," he says.
The entry level is called clinical research associate 1, and it's followed by clinical research associate 2. After that, there is a clinical research coordinator, and the final level is a clinical trials specialist, Gunawardena says.
"The clinical trials specialist is in the top tier, and at that level the person is managing a portfolio within his or her group and is contributing to the entire center, as well in terms of mentoring and training," he explains. "We have a pool of projects made available to the specialist so that he can opt to enhance his career path."
Gunawardena says his site has filled all of its job openings and has had very good success in retaining employees too.
"It's been very successful, and morale has gone up," he adds.