As integral as clinical research nurses (CRNs) are to providing care and driving healthcare innovations, there is a surprising shortage of nurses currently seeking this role. This is not necessarily due to lack of interest in the field, but rather a lack of awareness. While many nursing students are exposed to nursing research during school, few are given the opportunity to learn about clinical research opportunities in-depth. In fact, most clinical research nurses find themselves “falling into the profession” by being asked by a principal investigator to help with his or her clinical trial. While the overall unemployment rate stands at 4.9%1, the clinical research nurse rate remains lower. 60% of CRN positions take an average of three to six months to fill, with some searches taking as long as nine months2.
The most important requirement is to ensure recruitment teams are knowledgeable in clinical research, as well as the requirements of the position.  While this may seem like an obvious first step, some hospital-based research organizations rely on recruitment teams focused on hospital employees.  The lack of experience in recruiting clinical research roles can lead to an overflow of less-than-ideal candidates hitting the hiring manager’s inbox, causing frustrations and further delays.  Take the time to develop a relationship with recruiters and educate them on the needs in clinical research.  Providing feedback on why candidates submitted did not fit the current needs can help recruiters learn to look for better candidates.  Another solution is to outsource recruitment to an organization that specializes in recruiting for clinical research.
When working in a field where the demand far outweighs the trained supply, it can be easy for hiring managers to hold out for a “unicorn,” someone with all the needed qualifications who is ready and willing to work immediately. In this case, the unicorn would be a candidate with both research and the therapeutic experience. While this may be ideal for short-staffed clinical research sites, this blend of experience can be rare and does not necessarily ensure the candidate will be a cultural fit for the team.
Instead of waiting for “the one,” there are practical steps that hiring managers can take to fill the need. First, by targeting candidates with either clinical research or therapeutic research rather than requiring both, sites can increase the size of their teams in the short-term, while investing in training to fill in the deficit. Training resources include therapeutic nursing societies, such as the Oncology Nursing Society’s courses, and research societies, such as courses offered by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP), Society of Clinical Research Associates (SoCra) and the Society of Clinical Research Sites (SCRC). Sites should also develop an onboarding program and orientation with a preceptor in order to efficiently get new hires up to speed. Finally, once on board, hiring managers should encourage staff to join professional organizations and attend conferences with the goal of continued education, mentoring and networking.  These resources will assist seemingly underqualified candidates in making a significant impact on organizational goals.
Beyond expanding the talent pool, defining the desired cultural and behavioral fit for the interviewing process helps to retain the best talent. Gwede, Johnson, Roberts, and Cantor (2005) reported that clinical research nurses with personality traits such as high endurance, achievement orientation and nurturance have higher job satisfaction and less burnout. Creating targeted behavioral interview questions can help teams to target candidates that match the right fit. Utilizing the Predictive Index, DiSC Assessment, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Caliper Pipeline and similar evaluation tools aide the development of a specially directed interview process.
Once the right cultural and behavioral fit is clearly defined, a natural pipeline of talent can be developed. By working with local nursing schools to offer the often lacking clinical experience to students, a whole new crop of potential talent can be introduced to careers in clinical research. Similarly, sites can offer open house events during afterhours to educate nurses in the community on career opportunities in the field and the exciting trials currently being offered.
Lastly, with clinical research nursing unemployment so low, acting quickly helps to secure top talent.  When a great applicant interviews with on-site, especially “the unicorn”, act quickly to make an offer.  Delays, such as follow-up interviews or time to consider, will only enable the talent to be taken by a competitor.5
Note: This article originally appeared in the Septemer, 2016 edition of SCRS Insite: The Global Journal for Clinical Research Sites.

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016). Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey Retrieved from
  2. Speicher, L.A., Fromell G., Avery, S., Brassil D., Carlson, L., Stevens, E., & Toms, M. (2012.) The critical need for academic health centers to assess the training, support, and career development requirements of clinical research coordinators: recommendations from the clinical and translational science award research coordinator taskforce. Clinical and translational science, 5(6), 470-475. doi:10.1111/j.1752-8062.2012.00423.x.
  3. Gwede, C.K., Johnsson, D.J., Roberts C., Cantor, A.B. (2005). Burnout in clinical research coordinators in the United States. Oncology Nursing Forum, 32, 1123–1130. doi:10.1188/05.ONF.1123-1130.
  4. Offenhartz, M., McClary, K., & Hastings, C. (2008). Nursing and realities of clinical research. Nursing Management, 11, 9-34.
  5. Sullivan, J. (2014). The top 12 reasons why slow hiring severely samages recruiting and business results.  Recruiting Intelligence.

About the Author
Molly has over 18 years of health care experience with specialization in oncology, research and health care administration. Now Molly shares her experience and expertise with sites as a Medix Clinical Research Consultant.