Global Research Pharma Canada

Volunteering, entry level jobs and internships in clinical research

As part four of my series about clinical research jobs, I dedicate this post to comment about the advantages and disadvantages of volunteering in clinical research in order to gain experience, how it differentiates from an internship and an entry level job.

Before getting engaged into the discussion, I must make it clear that as a volunteer in a clinical research job you want to work to gain experience. It is different from being a volunteer in a clinical trial, since this involves you as the subject of investigation. Please make sure you understand the difference before you start calling sites to work as a volunteer in clinical research. Beware, being a clinical research participant does not give you experience in clinical research that can be translated into a job.

It is very common to believe that volunteering will enhance your resume to make you a more qualified candidate for a clinical research job. Although depends on where in the world you are, volunteering may not be a viable option if you have to support yourself and pay for your college loans. Also, not all institutions will entertain volunteers since they have their own internal policies regarding insurance and employee safety by which they are restricted to allowing non-employees perform any job in the facility.

What volunteering in Clinical Research would help you achieve?

  • First, some exposure to the clinical research enterprise. Although large pharmaceutical companies and CROs do not entertain volunteers, hospitals may do. So the fact is that you might volunteer in a health care facility where clinical trials are being conducted. That is a risky approach since all personnel involved in clinical trials has to be qualified by background and experience in clinical trials and that qualification must be properly documented in the clinical trial master files. So again the story of experience, like the cart before the horse.
  • Volunteering may represent a good opportunity to learn and get exposure to the job, and to potential employers, but remember that you must state in your resume that you volunteered in a position that gave you the experience in clinical research.

But what would you learn about clinical research in a health care facility as a volunteer?

  • Unless you have some previous health care experience, you will learn how the health care system works in your area, which are the doctors who are engaged in clinical research and how often they are monitored.
  • You might also become familiar with the functions of the institutional review board, and their members.
  • You may have some function in within the clinical research site assisting the coordinator.
  • Basically, you will start learning about the clinical research enterprise. That also might be translated into a job. But do not keep your hopes to high, generally if a clinical trial site takes in volunteers, is because they do not have the budget to hire someone.

Where do you find volunteer positions?

  • The majority of teaching hospitals in their web sites have doctors’ directories and they may contain a small bio of the doctor where his/her involvement in clinical research is included.
  • Also hospitals do take volunteers to assist with the patients. Those volunteer positions are limited and may not be for a clinical research job per se. The best way to get engaged in volunteering is contacting the facilities directly.

Volunteering vs. Internship

  • In my opinion, an internship is a better option than volunteering since it will focus on you working/learning. You may not generally be paid, and it may cost you time and effort, however it will give you precious experience hands on.
  • Regardless what you do related to clinical research, you worked on it. Internships may vary from a few weeks to months.
  • However, do not stay as an intern for more than a year. Move on.

Volunteering vs. entry level job

  • Of course you would not be volunteering if you were able to get an entry level job. Yet, I included this section to explain that not all experience has the same value.
  • If all your clinical research experience is based on a volunteer position you held for few months, make sure that you understood what you were doing as well as put it into perspective when applying for a clinical research job.
  • Having volunteered to gain experience in clinical research speaks volumes about your willingness to learn and the choice you made for a career in clinical research.

In my next post I will be giving tips on how to advance your career in clinical research. If you are stuck in your monitoring job for years now (regardless if it is contract of permanent) the choice to move on may not be easy since the money is good. However, you have outgrown it, your peers are much younger, have different interests, many are not married nor have kids as you do. They have graduated recently, are full of energy, and are happy to travel all the time. Sometimes a SrCRA can cash much more than a manager or director if is paid hourly plus expenses. How to balance the benefits and the pitfalls?