2010 Salary Survey Results

It's performance and results — and not just the economy — impacting research sites

Wages, however, are another story

Clinical trial sites might be experiencing an upward or downward cycle of business, but they can't blame it on the economy, some experts say. Sure, there is high unemployment overall and some depressed industries, but in the world of clinical research, things are booming for sites that demonstrate success in enrollment and performance.

"We've been expanding staffing, actually growing," says Tammy Anderson, CCRC, CCRA, CRCP, director of the clinical trials office at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA.

While other sites might see fewer studies come their way, the Virginia Commonwealth University Office of Research has seen an increase in studies, she adds.

One key is to proactively work with sponsors to build direct collaborations, Anderson says.

Another ingredient in the CT site's success is the site's efficiency and track record.

"There's a misconception where people think business is slow because of the economy or because there aren't as many trials in the United States, which is true," Anderson explains. "There aren't as many trials and a larger percentage are going overseas, but there still is a lot of clinical trial work being done in the United States."

The reality is that CT sites that operate efficiently and meet their enrollment projects are getting more contracts, she says.

"There's a new trend where sponsors are requiring more efficient sites and sites that are experienced and have compliance and training issues in place," she adds.

CT business fluctuates, but it's been an upward trend for the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System's research office, says Elizabeth E. Hill, PhD, RN, associate chief of staff for research at the Reno, NV, site.

"We're getting more business," Hill says.

The hard part is finding experienced staff, Anderson and Hill say.

"It's a tight market for finding experienced staff, and there are fewer and fewer experienced coordinators out there," Anderson says.

This is true particularly as salaries are frozen at many institutional research sites.

Clinical Trials Administrator's annual salary survey reflected this trend as about 59% of people responding to the survey said their salary has not changed in the past year. Another 12% said their salary decreased, and nearly 24% saw a 1% to 3% increase. While many clinical research professionals had received 4% to 6% increases in previous years, there was only one such report this year.

A number of states, including Virginia, have frozen all salaries, including those in state universities.

Also, in November, 2010, President Barack Obama announced freezing federal salaries, including those at VA hospitals.

"I can find people, but I have a hard time finding people with the experience I'd like them to have," Hill says. "It's still a fairly tight job market, and the pay freeze will have an impact on recruitment."

CR sites can improve their staffing situation by using their staff more efficiently, Anderson suggests.

One strategy is to use a team approach that puts the most experienced and highest pay grade employees in jobs that use their skills, while leaving administrative tasks and other lower-level work to less experienced staff, she says.

Sites that do this might find they attract a greater proportion of that small pool of experienced research coordinators.

"I am constantly being emailed and contacted by experienced coordinators and staff wanting to know when we will have positions open," Anderson says. "They like the idea and concept of being part of a team and having support staff."

Everyone is struggling to find qualified coordinators, Anderson notes.

Statistics show many coordinators leave for other types of research work within a few years of starting their first CR job, she adds.

The CTA salary survey results indicate that finding and retaining qualified staff is one of the biggest personnel issues facing clinical research sites. Respondents report having problems with coordinator turnover and these other issues:

  • Hiring enough people to help the CR program grow.
  • Filling management and upper management positions.
  • Finding people who are able to produce high quality work and who are self-motivated, highly organized, and internally driven to be excellent.
  • Retaining staff.
  • Managing workload.
  • Finding qualified staff with a commitment to quality and not just a pay check.
  • Salary/retention.
  • Managing personalities.

The CT office at Virginia Commonwealth University has a strategy for attracting and retaining experienced staff.

"We use more of a coordinator career track, so as employees gain additional experience, they can still get raises and have additional duties and responsibilities as their roles change," Anderson says.

For directors, managers, and other leaders of CR programs, salaries remain competitive with more than 65% earning $70,000 or more, according to the 2010 salary survey. Nearly 30% earn $100,000 or more per year, and about 18% have salaries of $130,000-plus per year. (See salary survey chart, below.)

Profil Institute for Clinical Research Inc. in Chula Vista, CA, also has bucked the economic trend in the past year as the institute has had a 20% increase in employees, says Susan Penn, director of human resources.

As a private institution, the research organization has not had to deal with hiring or salary freezes, and that has helped with recruitment, she notes.

Also, the organization has found many of its new employees through a successful employee referral plan in which current employees receive incentives to refer new people to the organization.

"We've had maybe 10 people referred by employees over the past year," Penn says.

The organization also has used online resources and local networking services to help find experienced and qualified new staff, she adds.

The recession's impact also can be seen in the length of time CR professionals are spending at their jobs. During recessionary periods, people change jobs less, and the salary survey seems to support that trend. More than 70% of respondents said their staff has remained stable this past year. About 17% reported gaining staff, and fewer than 12% said they'd lost staff.

The stability also extends to the length of time survey respondents reported having worked in their present field. Nearly all respondents had been in the field for four or more years, with close to 60% having been in the field for 10 years or longer. In fact, over 29% of respondents had worked in their current field for 19 or more years.

This trend has negatively impacted new graduates who seek work in clinical research. It's even caused new nursing school graduates to go jobless far longer than they might have anticipated, and when they do get a job, they might find no room for advancement.

The housing market crash has contributed to the trend of less job mobility, Hill notes.

CR leaders and staff might think they'll never be able to sell their houses, so they'll stay at the job even if it means their salary is frozen and their career mobility is limited, she says.

The housing crash has hit Nevada hard, and its impact is continuing. Previous recessions had a much more limited impact on job mobility because they didn't last as long, Hill says.

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