As the field of medicine grows in size and complexity, hospitals, research facilities, and laboratories rely increasingly on clinical researchers to analyze and diagnose illnesses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical scientists earned a median annual salary of more than $82,000 in 2017. The field boasts a projected job outlook growth rate of 13% over the next decade.
Medical researchers make a significant difference for patients and contribute to regional and nationwide studies of epidemics, chronic toxicities, and underlying health issues. Clinical researchers work independently or in technical teams to survey communities and investigate ongoing trends in medical treatments. They provide critical answers to medical concerns, giving peace of mind to patients and family members. Earn a master of clinical research and learn how to make a difference in people's lives.
Should I Get a Master's in Clinical Research?
The master's in clinical research trains students how to design and conduct clinical studies, interpret results, and translate those results for medical professionals and nonspecialists alike. For students entering the master's program directly after completing their bachelor's degree, an on-campus program might be the best fit because the coursework and school schedule mirrors the undergraduate experience. Students returning to school or full- or part-time professionals should explore an online or hybrid program to better meet their personal and professional needs. A completely online program offers flexible class participation and assignment and exam submissions. A hybrid degree combines online components with periodic campus meetings to maintain a personal educational experience and provide networking opportunities.
The on-campus experience increases one's professional visibility through consistent networking and community engagement, but limits the opportunity to maintain employment due to strict scheduling. Online programs make work and home life expectations more manageable, but degree completion requires more independent drive and initiative to stay on track. Regardless of the program you choose, training in clinical research opens gateways into drug trials, experimental treatments and therapy, and the opportunity to publish research innovations. Classes cover subjects such as epidemiology, biostatistics, quantitative analysis, and patient communication and care. You can pursue specializations in drug development, global health, or behavioral science to orient your degree around your desired future career. With a master's degree in clinical research, you gain a competitive edge on the job market and become an asset to a variety of medical institutions.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Clinical Research?
Given the many specializations possible in a master's program in clinical research, you can tailor your degree to fit many career paths. Epidemiologists specialize in disease identification and suppression by monitoring and testing communities for outbreaks of the common cold and other life-threatening epidemics. Biochemists and microbiologists delve into the minutiae of disease, exploring what constitutes a virus and how it spreads. The following list details just a few of the many careers possible with a clinical research master's degree.
These professionals collaborate with local and national government along with healthcare professionals to address disease outbreaks and chronic health and safety issues. They identify trends in viral and bacterial attacks, and educate community members on disease prevention. Epidemiologists can also focus on psychosocial issues, such as mental illness and substance abuse, to meet the growing need to address underlying behavioral problems.
Median Annual Salary: $69,660
Projected Growth Rate: 9%
- Medical Scientist
These individuals focus on clinical studies of human diseases, applying their research and analytical skills to directly impact the future of healthcare treatment. They identify and tailor new drug therapies to improve overall health outcomes. Medical scientists also study the latest information on disease outbreaks and virus strains to create and implement prevention programs.
Median Annual Salary: $82,090
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
Applying their research skills in the microbiology field, these professionals improve laboratory standards such as sterilization; and disease identification and response through clinical studies and controlled laboratory experiments. They work with bacteria cultures and microorganisms to address health issues stemming from animals, plantlife, and man-made chemicals.
Median Annual Salary: $69,960
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
These individuals manage and organize laboratory teams to design, investigate, document, and analyze research materials at the molecular level. They work with proteins, DNA, hormones, and nutrients to better comprehend biological processes. Biochemists work with the latest technologies to precisely analyze and detect infections and genetic disorders. Further education at the Ph.D. level is usually required.
Median Annual Salary: $91,190
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
How to Choose a Master's Program in Clinical Research
Multiple factors impact your decision to enter a master's program and the type of program you choose. Consider first how much time you can invest toward pursuing your degree. Typically, an on-campus degree in clinical research takes two years to complete, requiring 36-40 credit hours of core classes, specialized coursework, and a capstone research project. Online and hybrid programs require similar educational standards. The number of courses you take directly affects how fast you complete the degree. Part-time students may need one to two additional years to finish the master's program. Those interested in expediting the master's can enroll in extra classes each term.
You must also consider how the clinical research master's degree will impact your future career. Browse course lists at potential schools and see if they offer specific classes relevant to your career aspirations. If you plan to become an epidemiologist, for example, look for classes on epidemiology and biostatistical analysis.
Students must also factor in costs. While tuition fees vary between institutions, in-state tuition rates generally remain much lower than out-of-state costs. See if any schools in your state offer your desired degree specialization. Some online programs waive out-of-state tuition fees to increase enrollment. Check each school for details.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Clinical Research
No matter which school you choose, accreditation of your chosen master's program is vital. Accreditation declares the quality of your education to future employers and colleagues. Without accreditation, employers will be unsure of your qualifications and the breadth of your skills. Should you choose to continue your education with professional certifications or a Ph.D., you must have a master's from an accredited institution.
The U.S. Department of Education sanctions six regional accrediting bodies, including the Higher Learning Commission and the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, to monitor the quality of education nationwide. The Accreditation Council for Clinical Research and Education specifically accredits clinical research studies worldwide by maintaining standards of training and technological innovation. Check each potential school for accreditation, or search for the school directly through the database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs.
Master's in Clinical Research Program Admissions
Once you have chosen your desired schools, you must prepare and collect application materials. As with the bachelor's degree, all master's programs require similar application information, including details about the applicant and their reasons for applying. You must also gather school transcripts and recommendation letters before your application submission. These materials explain your educational history and should reflect your personal dedication to clinical research. Consider applying to three to four programs to increase your chances of acceptance. Typically, applicants begin their university search and apply the year before beginning a program.
The following lists detail the common prerequisites and admissions materials necessary to complete your application. Note that online programs may require more detailed information.
- Bachelor's Degree: Every accredited master's program requires a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. While no prerequisites are required to enter a master's of clinical research program, consider taking courses related to the field if your bachelor's comes from an unrelated area of study.
- Professional Experience: No professional experience is required to enter a clinical research program, though many schools strongly encourage previous work or volunteer experience in research or the medical profession.
- Minimum GPA: The typical undergraduate performance expected for a master's degree is a 3.0 GPA. If your previous educational record is less impressive, consider taking courses in clinical research or other related fields at a local university or community college to demonstrate your dedication.
- Application: All schools require applicants to submit an informative application detailing the applicant's address and contact information, as well as their reasons for applying. You can quickly complete the basic information, but the personal statement regarding your reasons for applying may take a few weeks to compose and edit.
- Transcripts: A transcript is a road map to your previous education, detailing courses completed at your undergraduate or continuing education institution, and providing GPA calculations. Contact your previous institution(s) directly for transcripts. Fees may apply.
- Recommendation Letters: Written by previous teachers, instructors, or employers, the letter of recommendation fills in the human story behind your transcript. Most schools require two to three letters of support. Be sure to give your recommenders at least one month to compose and submit their statements.
- Test Scores: Unlike other master's degrees, programs in clinical research rarely require GRE or GMAT scores.
- Application Fee: All schools require students to submit an application fee to cover the cost of reviewing application materials. This fee ranges from $60-$120. In rare cases, this fee can be waived due to financial hardship. Check your school's financial aid office for details.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Clinical Research?
Though programs vary by school, accreditation standards guarantee a certain level of uniformity in specializations and coursework. This section details some of the common concentrations possible in a master's in clinical research. Consider your natural abilities to ensure that your chosen degree focus works best for you.
|Epidemiology||Study disease outbreaks, epidemics, and underlying chronic issues in coursework oriented around epidemiology. Epidemiologists study environmental, genetic, and community triggers causing or underlying healthcare issues and serve the community. Understanding outbreaks and chronic illness is vital for advocating for healthcare assistance.||Epidemiologist, government healthcare advocate, environmental scientist|
|Clinical Research Management||Prioritize your managerial and leadership skills as a specialist in clinical research management. Managers rely on a strong understanding of healthcare issues as well as organizational skills to organize and galvanize public health. Students learn how to run a complex community of varying healthcare professionals and laboratory technicians.||Clinical research coordinator/manager, health educator|
|Laboratory Research||Focus on precisely controlled laboratory studies by designing experiments, recording and analyzing data, and producing results for specialists and nonspecialists involved in the medical field. Professionals must excel in careful data collection and lab report composition.||Clinical researcher, microbiologist, medical scientist|
Courses in a Master's in Clinical Research Program
A master's in clinical research covers standard course materials in data collection, quantitative and qualitative analysis, and research communication and composition. While school programs vary, you can expect versions of the following courses in any program. This training forms the foundation of your career.
- Principles of Epidemiology
Students explore the foundations of epidemiology: etiology, transmission, outbreak investigation, surveillance, and screening. They learn various methods of analysis and investigation and craft responses to outbreaks, including public announcements, healthcare initiatives, and hypothetical clinical trials.
- Patient-Oriented Research
Students learn to design, implement, and analyze case studies with the patient in mind. They combine interpersonal and communication skills with data collection and case study control and gain competency in the standards and regulations of clinical analysis.
- Data Management
Every hospital, institution, and laboratory compiles astounding amounts of research and patient data. In the field of clinical research, grasping the ethics of data collection and maintenance remains critical. Students receive training in current databases used throughout the medical field, and how to handle the results of clinical trials.
With the onset of digital medical records and innovations in healthcare treatment and disease prevention, the ethics underlying healthcare have become increasingly complex. Learners discuss current issues in the medical profession, such as stem cell research and genetic therapies, and confront their potential for manipulation.
- Behavioral Science
Individuals investigate trends in behavioral science through statistical data collection and interpretation, with practical skills training in assessment and evaluation. This course illuminates many of the sociocultural stressors underlying the dissemination of disease. Students learn to incorporate the behavioral dimension into future clinical research programs.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Clinical Research?
How long it takes to complete a master's in clinical research depends on many factors. Students can complete an on-campus program in about two years, with an average of two to three courses per term. Programs often require 36-40 course credits overall, though this number fluctuates between programs on the semester system versus the quarter system. To expedite program length, consider increasing your number of courses each term. Part-time students naturally take longer to complete their degree due to decreased course loads. Also, online students can take more time to finish the degree because of the personal accountability necessary to stay on track.
How Much is a Master's in Clinical Research?
The cost of your clinical research master's degree depends largely on the school's tuition rates and your location. An in-state master's degree costs on average $30,000-$45,000, which translates to between $7,500-$12,000 per term. Students can expect to pay around double for out-of-state tuition, averaging $60,000-$90,000 and $15,000-$25,000 per term. Some fully online programs waive out-of-state fees to increase enrollment. Review each school's financial offers for details.
Tuition for the master's in clinical research is just the first cost to consider. Housing remains the next most substantial financial burden. On-campus living imposes the most costs but offers easy access to school resources such as libraries, laboratories, and class meetings. Living off campus or in a less-populated region may save money by allowing you to share accommodations with other students or family members. You can take advantage of part- or full-time employment opportunities, although overall transportation costs may increase. Online education offers the most cost efficiency with regard to housing and transportation since students can choose where they live.
Students should not overlook possible hidden costs. Does your degree require technological or research tools? How many books will you purchase each term? These small financial burdens add up along the path to a master's degree.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Clinical Research Prepares For
- Certification of Infection Control and Epidemiology
Demonstrate your skills in disease identification and control with this certification. Tested on identification, surveillance, and prevention, this five-year certification sets you apart from other clinical researchers as a sensitive investigator of disease outbreaks. Professionals must recertify this qualification every five years.
- Certification as a Clinical Research Coordinator
This exam covers current practices of clinical research, including scientific research skills, clinical trial protocol and ethics, and management standards. The exam consists of 125 multiple-choice questions, and successful certification can be renewed every two years.
- Certification in Environmental Science
Maintained by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, this certification qualifies you as an environmental scientist in one of multiple areas of expertise, including air quality, environmental microbiology, and solid waste management.
- Clinical Microbiology Certification
The American College of Microbiology jointly regulates this certification with the American Society of Clinical Pathology. Passing this exam qualifies you to assume the title of technologist in microbiology or specialist in microbiology, both of which are recognized nationwide.
Resources for Graduate Clinical Research Students
Join this society to network, search for jobs, and learn about careers in microbiology. Upon graduation, continue your education with the ASM's webinars and stay up to date on recent innovations in the field through the association's multiple publications.
For students interested in the patient experience in clinical research, the CISCRP is a nonprofit dedicated to educating and communicating with members of the public and potential clinical trial participants. The organization's webinars provide information on how to communicate with patients and what concerns are at the top of trial participants' minds.
With free online courses offered through the Collaborative Institutional Training Program, SOCRA aims to inform and increase awareness of clinical researchers. An annual conference offers an opportunity to learn about current trends and issues in the field.
This international nonprofit is dedicated to ethical and productive clinical trial design. Join this society to learn from professionals about trial formats, effectiveness, and results.
For future healthcare educators, the HCEA unites healthcare professionals, patients, and community outreach workers to engage in conversation about healthcare issues. This resource offers teaching tools such as diagrams and clear explanations in nonprofessional language to increase comprehension for all parties.
Professional Organizations in Clinical Research
By joining and participating in a professional organization, you gain exposure to the latest trends and issues in the field, and meet like-minded colleagues. Many of these associations offer career benefits as well, such as job search engines and ongoing educational development webinars. Beyond the national associations listed below, look also for local professional communities to meet clinical researchers in your area.
Access the ACRP's eLearning portal to explore ongoing educational opportunities, present your latest research in the ACRP annual conference, or submit an article to the monthly journal, The Clinical Researcher.
Stay current on international epidemiological studies, pandemics, and large-scale disease prevention as an associate of the IEA. Join international meetings, read community publications, and engage in international healthcare.
The APHA unites government healthcare advocates nationwide. Detailing current and future advocacy platforms such as environmental health, vaccines, and tobacco use prevention, the APHA unites professionals and spreads educational materials to inform isolated communities.
Another advocacy community, the AHA lobbies for healthcare initiatives and insurance issues in the District of Columbia. Use the AHA career center and networking opportunities to build career visibility as a clinical researcher in hospital settings.
Fight for health assistance in rural American communities as a member of the NRHA. This nonprofit leadership organization promotes awareness of common rural healthcare issues and seeks to bring better healthcare options to small communities nationwide.