Clinical Researcher: Duties, Skills and How To Become One

Updated June 2, 2023

Two physicians work on tests, research and diagnoses.

Clinical researchers work in the health care or health sciences industries to develop new technologies, medications and treatments. If you're interested in science or biomedical research and enjoy tracking data and researching potential cures for diseases, this could be the ideal opportunity for you. Learning more about what a clinical researcher does and how to become one may help you determine whether this career is right for you. 

In this article, we explain what a clinical researcher is, what they do and steps and tips to becoming one.

What is a clinical researcher?

A clinical researcher oversees the development and implementation of clinical research projects to assess the safety and effectiveness of various medications, diagnostic products and medical devices. Clinical researchers plan and monitor a wide range of clinical trials to test how safe and effective new medical inventions are and to explore the underlying causes of disease. They have an important role in improving patient care and outcomes and use their findings to better inform physicians and other medical personnel of new treatments.

 A clinical researcher can work in a variety of environments, including health care organizations, university departments, governmental research organizations and pharmaceutical companies. You can often base this on your preferences. For example, if you have a high affinity for working with patients, you can be a clinical research coordinator. Or, if you prefer administrative work, you can work in regulatory affairs or data analysis. You  can also specialize in different research areas, including:

  • Pediatrics

  • Oncology

  • Neuroscience

  • Cardiovascular systems

  • Clinical trials

  • Diagnosing practices

  • Health screening

  • Genes and genetic data

Related: What Is Clinical Research Design? Elements and Importance

What does a clinical researcher do?

Clinical researchers can work in a variety of industries and positions. Two typical roles for researchers include a clinical research coordinator, an entry-level job, and a clinical research associate, typically a more experienced position. A clinical researcher's daily duties usually depend upon their location, specific role and specialty, but they may include the following:

  • Recruiting and screening patients before research trials

  • Collecting and observing data to determine how safe or efficient a product is

  • Collaborating with a scientific or medical team

  • Managing project budgets and deadlines

  • Ensuring trials operate correctly and meet local regulations

  • Writing and reviewing clinical reports at the end of studies

  • Writing articles for publication in medical or scientific journals

  • Presenting findings at meetings or conferences

  • Securing funds through sponsors or health organizations

Related: Clinical Research Coordinator vs. Clinical Research Associate

Skills for clinical researchers

To be successful at their job and determine the safety of a new drug or medication, clinical researchers need to have a combination of technical and soft skills. The following skills are beneficial for clinical researchers to have: 

Data analysis

After tracking data, clinical researchers analyze it to make scientific conclusions. They can use analytical and data analysis skills to read and understand data more easily, allowing them to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a trial. For example, when producing a new medicine, clinical researchers may use data to calculate how effective the medicine is at treating an illness.

Related: What Is Data Analysis? (With 7 Methods of Analyzing Data)


Clinical researchers examine patients carefully during screenings and trials. To be successful, they need strong observational skills to notice changes and track relevant data. For example, they might use their observational skills to assess how quickly a treatment works to alleviate a rash. 

Read more: Observation Skills: Definition and Examples

Public speaking

Clinical researchers are often responsible for presenting their findings and research studies to a group of doctors, scientists or other experts in their industry. The ability to speak confidently on high-level topics and display visually appealing information is key. These skills might also be beneficial when meeting with potential research funders. 

Related: Public Speaking: 30 Tips To Improve Your Presentation Skills


Clinical researchers write detailed reports to document a trial's results. They may also write articles for scientific journals, and they can use writing skills to produce clear and compelling written content. Excellent writing skills also enable them to improve the quality of their medical research and clinical research studies. 

Related: 7 Features of Scientific Writing (Plus Definition and Tips)


Clinical researchers must be organized because many factors might influence a clinical trial. Strong organizational skills help researchers plan detailed trials, create schedules and track patients. Organizational skills can also help them implement budgets and meet all project deadlines. 

Related: Organizational Skills: 10 Types and How To Improve Them

Attention to detail

Clinical research and trial data need to be accurate to maintain patient safety. Researchers need careful attention to detail to ensure that all information is correct. For example, when planning a trial or study, they must determine the ideal number of participants and continuously track their progress throughout the study. 

Read more: Attention to Detail: Definition and Examples

Verbal communication

Clinical researchers talk with patients, doctors, scientists and medical panels during their careers. Strong verbal communication skills help them recruit patients, explain the steps of a trial and discuss the results with various audiences. They also enable them to relay important updates about a trial to the appropriate medical personnel.

How to become a clinical researcher

Like many other scientific careers, becoming a medical researcher requires completing your education and fulfilling specific requirements. Here are four steps you can take to become a researcher: 

1. Take relevant classes

Clinical researchers typically pursue an undergraduate degree in biology, chemistry, medicine, psychology or a related field. Many also earn a master's, especially if they hope to work at a university or pharmaceutical company. While earning your degree, complete coursework related to the clinical research field to increase your knowledge. Consider taking classes in the following areas:

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Epidemiology

  • Biostatistics

  • Anatomy

  • Immunology

  • Nursing

  • Pharmacology

  • Medical ethics

Related: FAQ: What Is a Clinical Research Degree? (Plus Jobs To Consider)

2. Consider additional schooling

Some clinical researchers begin their careers with a bachelor's or master's degree but decide to advance by earning a more advanced degree. This can include a doctorate in a relevant field. An advanced degree could help you develop your research skills and differentiate yourself from other candidates to potential employers. You might also want to earn a second degree to showcase more specialized knowledge. 

Related: What Is a Doctorate? (And How To Get One in 3 Steps)

3. Consider earning certifications

Earning relevant certifications may help you succeed as a clinical researcher. The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) offers a certification exam to individuals interested in demonstrating their expertise in clinical research. Passing shows you have the industry knowledge and skills to become a clinical research associate. Most candidates need between 1,500 and 30,000 hours of professional experience before receiving certification, depending on their degree and the school they attended.

4. Apply for relevant positions

After completing your education and earning the relevant certifications, you can begin applying for positions in the field. Create a detailed resume and cover letter highlighting your research skills and competencies. If you don't yet have much experience, it may benefit you to begin working in a smaller role as a clinical research assistant or lab assistant. Try to apply for jobs at the institutions where you want to work. 

Related: How To Write a Clinical Research Cover Letter

Tips for working as a clinical researcher 

Consider following these tips to help you succeed as a clinical researcher:

Develop your leadership and management skills

As a clinical researcher, you may collaborate with a research team regularly, so you need strong leadership and management skills to delegate tasks effectively. Consider practicing motivation, delegation and supervision regularly and review resources on how to become an effective leader.

Learn about current research practices

Research practices can change over time, and successful clinical researchers usually stay informed of new research practices to incorporate them into their work. Consider attending local workshops or professional conferences to develop your knowledge and remain updated on current trends. 

Plan for funding

Some clinical trials require funding from sponsors, and continued funding is often necessary to apply for relevant grants. Developing strong presenting skills and writing skills by taking additional courses may help you secure funds for future trials as a researcher. 

Understand the regulations and guidelines

Clinical researchers must understand how to conduct fair and safe trials. Make an effort to review current research regulations and guidelines periodically. 

Practice communicating with different audiences

Clinical researchers communicate with patients, doctors and sponsors. Learning how to present complex information to these different audiences is a helpful skill that could help you succeed in your career.

Be flexible

As a clinical researcher, there may be times when you must make adjustments to a study. Improve your flexibility by planning for the unexpected and further developing your skill set. 

Establish project priorities early

A clinical trial usually has specific requirements, including budgetary obligations and deadlines. Establish project priorities early to ensure you complete each research project on time and within budget. 

Consider an internship

Internships can be a great way to bolster your experience and learn from established researchers. Look for internship opportunities at medical research organizations or biomedical companies that allow you to work on clinical trials to build practical experience before you apply for full-time jobs.

Build a professional network

One of the most effective ways to find new jobs is to speak with qualified experts who may know about openings. Connect with others in your industry at conferences, trials or other events that allow researchers to meet with other scientists. Then, reach out to members of your network to ask about employment opportunities at their workplaces.

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