COVID-19 didn’t spare the clinical trials space, which saw a decline in the number of trials started and many trial pauses in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. The number of trial initiations seemed to normalize the following year, only for research organizations to begin losing large volumes of their staff amid the “Great Resignation.” Meanwhile, the industry attempted to regain pace with the pandemic-delayed research from the previous year, creating a workload influx that understaffed organizations struggled to keep up with.
In the wake of these continued conditions, clinical research organizations can determine how to bounce back and gain sufficient staffing for clinical trials in 2023 and beyond.
The Challenges of Recruiting and Retaining Staff for Clinical Trials
Clinical research companies are facing many persistent staffing challenges even as COVID winds down, including the following:
A Lack of Advancement Opportunities
New entrants into clinical research may see steep salary rises after gaining a few years of experience, but those in the mid-career range often hit plateaus in their earning potential. Recognizing there’s little opportunity for financial advancement if they stay in their current position, they’re likely to seek opportunities elsewhere, either with a competing research organization or in another industry altogether.
Long work hours arise from accommodating the schedules of both investigators and trial participants, meeting the strict timelines of most trials, and providing the required regulation and documentation. Additionally, clinical trial roles tend to be multifaceted, requiring members to treat trial participants while simultaneously conducting administrative tasks, stretching staff too thin.
Many of the recent resignations have been among research veterans with 15 to 20 years of experience. Tenures of such lengths generally result in a considerable amount of institutional, clinical, and regulatory knowledge, which an organization loses when these individuals resign. Younger talent, particularly those newly entering the space, may take up to a full year to catch up to their seasoned predecessor’s skill level.
Overcoming the Challenges
Overcoming clinical trial staffing challenges requires an array of solutions that align the expectations and aspirations of clinical research organizations with the talent they hire.
A Commitment to Transparency
The absence of a clear organizational vision and a lack of growth or engagement are common reasons people resign. Resignations often stem from a dissonance between the reality of an individual’s role and their expectations before joining the team. Establishing honest expectations from the beginning is essential. If heavy workloads, long hours, and salary plateaus are commonplace, candidly communicate those difficulties during the interview so the candidate can make a well-informed decision about their future with the organization.
While transparency can’t completely protect an organization from salary-driven turnover, it allows candidates to prepare themselves for these challenges rather than feel as if they’ve been misinformed about their role. While transparency can turn away certain candidates, it helps both parties align from the beginning and reduces costly turnover down the road, mid-trial.
Positive engagement correlates to high employee satisfaction. A sufficient salary, consistent feedback, meaningful mentorship, and work that speaks to their strengths all factor into whether an employee remains satisfied, influencing their desire to stick around. These elements communicate to employees that an organization values them.
Those in leadership roles can foster positive engagement among clinical trial staff by staying current on competitive wages and enacting formal programs that ensure employees receive the necessary recognition, guidance, and challenges to connect with their work and work environment.
A strategy centered on positive engagement may help resolve one of the key contributors to burnout: the lack of thought an organization may display regarding the employee experience. It acknowledges the difficulty inherent to a lot of clinical research work and seeks to motivate employees past the emotional hurdles that tend to arise.
A Transfer of Skills
Clinical trials require professionals with nuanced experience, not just in clinical trials, but in stages of trials, including discovery, manufacturing, commercialization, and more. There are often individuals who have a desire to learn about other stages and perhaps even transfer some of their skill sets. It behooves organizations to listen to this interest or even foster it among staff. It could open opportunities to learn and potentially even advance.
A Staffing Partnership
Partnering with a life sciences staffing expert allows research organizations to find skilled specialists to support trials. The ideal staffing partner has extensive life sciences experience to identify candidates with the character, competencies, and qualifications necessary to meet contract research organization and site operation needs. A staffing partner can help find candidates who facilitate organizational growth and provide consultation to advance operations with programs.
At Medix, consultation and staffing for clinical trials are among our specialties. Get in touch with us today to discover how we can streamline your talent search.