What is a Masters in Clinical Research?
Most masters in clinical research are masters in science (MS) degrees in health sciences in the field of clinical research. Clinical research is a branch of medical science that determines the effectiveness of treatment regimens, medications, and medical products for human use. A clinical researcher studies the latest drug and pharmaceutical developments as well as drug safety. Clinical research’s purposes is to create clinical tests to cover medications before they go on market and to determine how often and when medications are most effective, and how to properly use medications.
To obtain a top-level lab position as a clinical researcher and become involved in clinical trials and medical research, it is crucial for a person to obtain some sort of master’s degree in clinical research. Although an MS in clinical research is the most popular degree program, a person can also become a clinical researcher through a masters of science in nursing (MSN) in clinical trials research, a masters program in psychology with an emphasis on clinical research, or a MS in clinical research administration. The various number of masters in clinical research degrees all focus on science or on the business aspect of clinical research.
Course Curriculum for a Masters in Clinical Research
The type of masters program in clinical research that you choose will influence the type of career you obtain after your degree. No matter the program, most masters in clinical research degrees are comprised of 32-36 hours with core courses, professional core courses, and area of specialty. Core courses are used to provide students with a basic set of skills required in clinical investigations in all fields of interest. These skills include understanding of research design, epidemiologic methods, biostatistics, study and survey design, measurement of outcomes, and ethical and regulatory principles of research involving human subjects. Professional courses usually include hands-on experiences in clinical research methodology, and also teach ethics and law studies. Finally, the area of specialty courses can be taken after the core curriculum has been completed. This area usually includes research design and development, in addition to specific classes to do with your area of study. Overall, a masters in clinical research program usually takes 2-3 years to complete.
Often programs encourage students to pick one primary specialty, and then choose cross classes to accompany the main choice of curriculum. Different areas of specialization often include these basic tracks:
- Product Research and Development: Courses designed to hone skills in the essentials for developing new therapeutic products encompassing the basic and clinical sciences and for understanding the trends in clinical research.
- Regulatory Compliance and Law: Courses to do with ethical, legal, and regulatory standards, all used to ensure quality clinical research. These courses are used to guarantee the integrity of research involving a human population.
- Biostatistics and Data Management: These courses focus on design and data management for the clinical trial to ensure that it is properly designed, keeping human research participants away from risk.
- Clinical Research Management and Safety Surveillance: These types of courses are used to better understand project management, the vagaries of the innovative product development industry, and strategies for coping and surviving in this ever shifting environment.
- Business and Strategic Planning of New Product Development: These are more business and strategy oriented classes needed for developing and conducting clinical trials.
Scholarships and Grants for a Masters in Clinical Research
There are opportunities for both scholarships and grants for masters’ students of clinical research. Scholarships are based on merit—you can receive a scholarship for academic achievements or for writing an essay. Grants are based on monetary need, and students who receive them have somehow proved that they’re in need for the money to go to school. Applications for grants are usually more detailed and you may be asked to provide a report on how the money will be used.
The first step for looking into scholarships is to contact your school’s financial aid department. Most colleges and universities offer programs for graduate students such as fellowships that have responsibilities to serve as a research or teaching assistant.
The National Institutes of Health also has more information on options for scholarships for clinical research students. Other sources to check in to include the Genentech, the American Association for Cancer Research. For grant options, the American Medical Association are two good resources. There are many other options so be sure not to limit yourself in exploring different avenues.
Career Opportunities for a Masters in Clinical Research:
Jobs within the clinical research field involve the tasks of: developing and testing new medications, diagnostic products and methods, medical equipment, treatment techniques, prevention methods, and other things relating to helping patients get or stay healthy. Ensuring the test results are accurately recorded and that the proper paperwork is submitted to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are also a lot of individual job positions you can get depending on if you want to work in development or in labs running tests and conducting trials. A few career areas you could go into include:
- Drug Development: This entails developing new drugs for the public—testing and approving drug developments and whether they’re effective. Usually a private company, the government or a university employs drug development clinical researchers.
- Contract Research Organization: In this position you work in the development of medical products and tools, taking on contracts through different companies. A company usually outsources this kind of work to a third party so they do not have to keep staff on payroll while a product is created, tested, and FDA approved.
- Clinical Data Management: This job involved collecting computer data and comparing patterns from any test, trial or treatment that is done. Further study is then done one that data for future studies and to support a drug or product seeking FDA approval.
- Experimental medical treatments: There are constantly new drugs being developed for different life threatening and non-life threatening diseases. A master in clinical research can prepare you for a lead role in experimental medical treatments, managing the trials and presenting results after the treatment is over. You may be doing this at a private pharmaceutical company, at a university, or in a private care facility.
The daily tasks of a clinical researcher definitely vary depending on the location you work at the role you play. At a smaller facility you could be doing a wide variety of things, taking on multiple positions. At a larger facility though it’s more likely you’ll be assigned to a specific role. The majority of your tasks will be doing experiments in the lab or running trials with patients and recording results. You’ll also be confronted with safety procedures while working with contagious diseases and dangerous machines. Even if you don’t have an administrative position, you’ll still be doing some administrative tasks such as filing paperwork or data entry from clinical studies.
As in all careers, the salary for a clinical researcher depends on a number of factors: location, years of experience, employer, and job title. In general you can expect to earn between $40,000 and $80,000. A more advanced degree will get you a higher salary—usually you’ll only be hired with a certified and accredited master’s degree.
One of the highest paying jobs for a clinical researcher is a Senior Clinical Research Associate, which earns an average of $80,000 per year. Clinical Laboratory Scientists, Clinical Research Coordinators, or Clinical Research Associates earn between $40,000 and $65,000. Top paying positions exist in California, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Working in a larger city will pay better as opposed to working in a small town.
Employers often offer good benefits and bonuses for their clinical research employees. Usually you can expect an average annual bonus of up to $3,250, and you can expect to receive a benefits package including paid vacation days and a medical, dental, and eye insurance plan.