Collaborative Conversations Unite Clinical Research Professional Community

diverse group of clinical research professionals having a discussion while seated in a circle

Clinical research professionals (CRP) are a vital part of the clinical and translational science workforce. However, there are multiple barriers to recruiting, training, and retaining these vital workers at academic medical centers, compounded by the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a frustratingly quick turnover rate at these institutions. 

In September 2020, the Institute of Translational Health Sciences (ITHS) kicked off Collaborative Conversations, a series of virtual Un-Meetings for faculty, managers, administrators and more to discuss the critical need for professional workforce development of CRPs working at academic medical centers. The outcome of the Un-Meetings, published as a pair of CLIC Synergy Papers in May, identified multiple barriers to recruiting, training, and keeping CRPs, and laid out a set of solutions. 

“We recognized the unique needs for the clinical research professional workforce at academic medical centers conducting clinical translational research,” says Carolynn Jones, D.N.P., M.S.P.H., R.N., a lead planner, key facilitator and co-director of Workforce Development at The Ohio State University CCTS. “We aimed to have an Un-Meeting to address needs related to onboarding, competency-based training and workforce retention and progression, and wanted to identify facilitators/barriers and recommendations. Ultimately, we engaged 130 CRPs and leaders at 45 CTSA hubs (including hub partners and affiliated Institutional Development Award sites).” 

Analyzing qualitative data from the Collaborative Conversations Un-Meeting series, a group of cross-consortium researchers identified the common facilitators and barriers to recruitment, retention, and professional development affecting the sustainability of the CRP workforce at institutions across the consortium. The team of researchers uncovered seven key barriers to recruitment and retention including resource and organizational challenges, lack of principal investigator engagement with CRP workforce, lack of standardized training and professional development and five challenges in current training processes including a lack of balance between foundational and new knowledge and a lack of mentorship.  

This analysis then paved the way for the next step: developing solutions that could be implemented on an institutional level and also offer better guidance for policy decisions being made by NCATS.  

“We hope to continue the conversation with leaders at institutions and HR leadership to expand an understanding of the unique contributions and issues for CRPs and the importance of a well-trained workforce, especially in this current “great resignation” phenomenon that has hit all of the CTSA hubs. We are in a workforce crisis, so our findings could help to cement positive future solution-finding,” Jones said.  

The research team developed multiple solutions including strengthening inter-institutional communication, cross-consortium mentorship circles, garnering support from key stakeholders to bolster professional relationships and morale, reforming local institutional polices and more. Though the challenges found in the initial data analysis may have seemed daunting, the numerous solutions developed and the excitement of the research team paint an optimistic view of future steps for the CRP community.  

Jones reflected this hopeful outlook, and her excitement for what is to come next, “…through Collaborative Conversations, we have created a strong CRP community of practice that are energized by the process and outcomes of this work. We are motivated to begin developing collaborative CTS workforce research, resource sharing and innovative workforce development initiatives such as DEI co-mentoring circles.  We hope it is the beginning of the formation of new workgroups and research.  

Read the full publications, Part 1 and Part 2, to learn more.