Amid an otherwise challenging and gloomy year for conducting research, one positive has shone through brightly: the dedication and talent consistently demonstrated by a clinical trial workforce under extreme stress. As we pull together to battle the global COVID-19 health crisis, trials have been launched in matters of days, not months, new ways of conducting trials have made it easier for patients to participate remotely, and we’ve seen promising vaccines developed at warp speed.
Clearly, the clinical trial workforce has risen to the occasion and deserves our respect and applause. But there’s a cloud on the horizon that threatens the efficacy of trials and the well-being of clinical trial professionals toiling in the trenches to alleviate suffering and prolong lives.
I’m referring to a growing gap between the size of the clinical trial workforce and the demand for new trials. Put simply, as an industry we aren’t keeping up with tomorrow’s expectations.
ClinicalTrials.gov reports a growth from 181,274 to 299,787 of registered clinical trials between 2015 and 2019. That’s an increase of more than 65% in four years, and there’s no indication it’s going to slow down anytime soon.
While clinical trial growth is exciting and bodes well for future treatments and other breakthroughs, we won’t realize its full potential if we can’t simultaneously expand the workforce quickly enough to support the work. It’s difficult to definitively declarethe number of jobs in the clinical trial workforce, in part because it’s not tracked by the Department of Labor as such, and job titles are not consistent across industry. However, surveys and available data suggest that over the last three years there are signs that demand for clinical trial personnel has been increasing, with average compound annual growth in monthly job postings activity of 9.3% across all clinical research positions.
But if a a nearly 10% growth in the workforce sounds robust, it obviously won’t keep pace when we recognize that the average year-over-year growth in clinical trials activities was 12.2% over roughly the same time period.
At the top of our shared to-do list to address this looming shortage is finding meaningful new ways to improve the diversity of the clinical trial workforce. In a sad echo of the clinical trial patient population, minorities are generally under-represented across all categories. It’s unworthy of us as human beings on a moral level to not represent everyone; it also weakens the scientific integrity of trials.
Luckily, more and more people are recognizing the importance of promoting diversity in the clinical trial workforceand the impact it would have on recruiting underrepresented populations into trial participation. This in turn, will lead to the generation of better healthcare data for these groups.
Organizations are forming to address the shortage in hands-on fashion. A great example is Black Women in Clinical Research (BWICR), founded by Danielle Coe in 2019. In an October 9, 2020 discussion with ACRPtv, she outlined why organizations such as hers are vitally important to improving clinical trials, and how BWICR has already made a positive impact by generating more interest in clinical trials as a career.
We need to thank and encourage the proactive people like Coe in the clinical trial industry because they are tackling this problem at the source. But our industry must do a better job on a bigger scale by more proactively reaching out to all segments of the population in all parts of the country. It is incumbent upon sponsors and the entire clinical trial industry to make wider employee outreach not just a priority in word, but also a priority in action.
Closer to home, ACRP and others are active on this front. The ACRP Partners in Workforce Advancement (PWA) is a multi-stakeholder, collaborative initiative to growand diversify the clinical research workforce and to set and support standards for workforce competence. PWA membership includes more than 30 organizations representing sponsors, contract research organizations, sites, regulatory agencies, academic institutions, suppliers, and more.
Most recently, the PWA launched a new outreach campaign designed to raise awareness of clinical research as a career option among minoritycollege students called the “Find Your Element” campaign. It began in February in Miami and the Research Triangle Park region of North Carolina. In November, the program expanded to Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and San Francisco.
The expansion is designed to grow interest in and awareness of the clinical research profession among college students, including diverse and multicultural students, to help make clinical trials more representative of the patient population. The pilot campaign will reach nearly 400,000 students currently enrolled in healthcare and life sciences programs at colleges and universities across those markets.
It’s early days yet for these programs, but the anecdotal evidence is strong that when people hear about careers in clinical research, they are often interested to learn more.
Clinical trials are in the news today as never before. We have an unprecedented opportunity to raise awareness of their importance even as we reach out to the new professionals who will fuel their future growth. It’s our chance and it’s our responsibility to enrich the clinical trial workforce with a new diversity. I hope you can find ways to contribute to this most worthy endeavor.
Association of Clinical Research Professionals