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Closing the Gap: How to Overcome Clinical Trial Staffing Shortages

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Steve Matas, SVP of Strategic Resourcing
Steve Matas, SVP of Strategic Resourcing

Serious staffing shortages affect nearly all aspects of healthcare, clinical research included.

According to CareerBuilder data, the U.S. has 6.6 million clinical research jobs available, but only 5.7 million available hires. That’s a gap of nearly one million people. Factor in the increasing quantity and complexity of clinical trials, the lack of a defined career path, and a generally risk-averse mindset, and that gap becomes a chasm.

To lessen the impact of clinical research staffing shortages, companies must change their approach to attracting and retaining skilled talent. That approach requires all stakeholders to work together to develop strategies to fill open roles of today and tomorrow.

Inside the Gap: Clinical Research Staffing Challenges

Talent shortages in clinical trial operations stem from issues both common across industries and unique to this one. Economic uncertainty, COVID-19 fallout, and an aging workforce have affected clinical research much like the healthcare and life sciences industries at large. Other developments within clinical research make its staffing challenges even more pronounced. Some include:

        A shrinking talent pool. We have more professionals leaving the industry than entering. Clinical research jobs demand critical thinking, judgment, and specialized training. Entry-level employees typically acquire that training by working alongside seasoned professionals. As companies transition to remote or hybrid work, less-experienced employees have fewer opportunities to engage in the hands-on cooperative work that helps them qualify for more specialized roles. Frustrated by the lack of advancement opportunities, they move on.

         A rise in demand. Over the past five years, the number of registered clinical trials in the United States has grown from 262,294 in 2018 to 399,498 in 2022. That’s a growth rate of about 10% per year.

At the same time, clinical trials have also become more complex, with more data collected from a wider variety of sources. More complex clinical research activity increases the demand for skilled professionals. Candidates in data management, biostatistics, and clinical operations are in especially short supply.

        No defined career path. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not recognize clinical research as a career path. This oversight means fewer individuals consider a career in clinical operations or other aspects of clinical research. And while there are certificate programs for clinical research associates and other professionals, it’s not widely taught in traditional STEM programs.

         Risk-based barriers to entry. Life sciences is a highly regulated, risk-averse industry, and that tendency carries over to hiring trends. Pharmaceutical companies may prefer to hire individuals with specialized expertise rather than nurture talent from within. Just as we develop innovation, why not develop top talent?

Filling the Gap: How to Attract and Keep Clinical Research Talent

Staffing shortage challenges won’t resolve themselves overnight. But life sciences organizations can expand their pipeline of top talent by following a few best practices.

         Collaborate. The clinical research industry often suffers from siloed thinking, which hinders innovation and progress. To encourage diversity of thought, stakeholders across departments must work collaboratively. Together, leadership can develop plans not only to fill current roles but also to fill opportunities in the future.

         Think globally. As decentralized clinical trials (DCTs) increase in prevalence, clinical research-focused companies can tap into global talent pools. Explore recruiting talent from outside the U.S., from the Asia-Pacific Region to Latin America and beyond.

A global approach to recruitment serves an additional purpose: it helps create a more diverse workforce. Aligning that workforce with the diverse populations served goes a long way toward meeting clinical trial diversity objectives as well as internal diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals.

        Lay down tracks for growth. In addition to expanding the pool, consider developing two career tracks for current and future employees. One track could focus on task operators who seek short-term, tactical work. The second track would aim to develop careers for those who want to make a meaningful impact through clinical research. By nurturing and supporting both tracks, businesses attract and nurture a diverse range of talent and skills.

        Establish a mentorship program. Advanced Clinical recently launched a mentorship program for both early-career professionals and individuals transitioning from other professions. We also actively seek talent from complementary fields who may not be aware of clinical research career opportunities. Mentorship is one way organizations can nurture employees with potential while also accommodating demands for remote and hybrid work environments.


Mergers and acquisitions, economic instability, and burnout affect nearly all areas of healthcare and life sciences, including clinical research. Working together, leadership can develop strategies to recruit more of the skilled workers they need while also nurturing and retaining the dedicated employees they have.


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