Clinical Research Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a clinical research master's or PhD program? Read about clinical research degree program requirements, the pros and cons of master's and PhD programs and potential careers.
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Study Clinical Research: Degrees at a Glance

Clinical research is devoted to discovering, testing and gauging the safety and effectiveness of medical treatments, procedures and products. Some clinical researchers also study methods for preventing and diagnosing diseases. Clinical researchers who lead projects must generally hold a PhD and/or a medical degree, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. However, a bachelor's or master's degree and experience may be acceptable for lower-level clinical research workers, such as clinical research associates.

According to the BLS, the number of jobs for medical scientists is set to grow by 36% between 2010 and 2020. This is considerably higher than the average job growth rate across all occupations. In addition, clinical researchers earn relatively high salaries; however, extensive education is generally required to enter this profession.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? People interested in a clinical research associate career; doctors and medical students who want to work as medical scientists Individuals who want to work as clinical researchers in the private or public sectors
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) Experience is usually required for the following positions, and a bachelor's degree may be acceptable:
- Clinical research associate (level 1 - $58,000, level 2 - $73,000, level 3 - $90,000)*
- Health specialty professor ($89,000)**
- Medical scientist ($76,000)**
Time to Completion 2 years or less, full-time; 2-4 years, part-time At least 4 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Master's thesis or research project - PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree or higher
- MCAT or GRE scores
Same as for the master's degree, plus the following:
- 3.5 GPA
- Research experience or advanced clinical degree for some programs
Online Availability Yes None

Sources: *Salary.com (July 2012) and **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Master's Degree in Clinical Research

Master's degree programs in clinical research are generally designed for those who are either current healthcare practitioners (doctors and nurses) or medical students. In these programs, you'll study topics like epidemiology, research design and ethics, and you may have the chance to specialize in an area like human genetics or outcomes research. Many programs accept part-time students, and some are designed to be completed jointly with a medical degree. A research project is usually required.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A master's degree will help prepare you for clinical research support roles, and it's a preferred qualification for some jobs
  • You'll be able to finish school and begin your career much sooner than you would if you pursued a PhD or a medical degree
  • If you're already a medical student or healthcare specialist, clinical research training can help expand your career options beyond direct patient care

Cons

  • A master's degree isn't necessary for some clinical research jobs
  • Some clinical research support positions require a nursing degree or experience - a master's degree in clinical research alone may not be enough
  • Your school may not offer funding for master's degree students

Courses and Requirements

Students in clinical research master's degree programs generally take courses in regulations and ethics, research design and statistics. In some programs, a hands-on practicum is required. Students may also take courses to develop their scientific writing and data analysis skills. Here are a few specific course topics covered in many master's degree programs in clinical research:

  • Bioethics
  • Grant writing
  • Statistical computing
  • Data management and quality control

After you've finished your coursework, most programs will require you to complete a research project. Some programs also offer a thesis option.

Online Degree Options

If it's not convenient for you to attend an on-campus program, you might consider an online clinical research administration degree program. Coursework is similar to what you'd take for an on-campus program, and you may have the option of completing a practicum locally. A capstone project may be required to graduate. Part-time study is typically available.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

After earning your master's degree in clinical research and getting at least 2 years' experience, you can take the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) certification exam. If you pass, you'll have a certification that can provide evidence of your knowledge to potential employers. Also, many clinical research positions require experience, so it would be wise to take advantage of any internship opportunities that you can find while you're in school.

PhD in Clinical Research

If you're interested in working as a professor or lead clinical researcher, then a PhD program in clinical research or clinical and translational science may be appropriate for you. In order to apply to most programs, you'll need to possess at least a bachelor's degree, but an advanced degree in a clinical specialty is usually preferred. In addition, it's generally expected that applicants are already experienced healthcare practitioners or have experience in clinical research. There are also some programs that allow you to earn this degree in conjunction with a medical degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A PhD will help you qualify for higher-level clinical research jobs
  • As a postsecondary professor, you could have the opportunity to earn tenure
  • You'll have the ability to influence the future course of clinical research, which can positively impact public health

Cons

  • Getting into a PhD program in clinical research typically requires significant experience and academic preparation
  • Earning a PhD is generally a long and arduous process, and you'll most likely have to put your career on hold to complete your program
  • Tuition assistance is not available for all students in clinical research PhD programs - you may have to pay your own way or get loans to cover costs

Courses and Requirements

Students in clinical research PhD programs study statistical, laboratory and computer-based research methods, as well as ethics. After completing your core courses, you'll also take classes that pertain to your particular research specialty and participate in a mentored research experience. Those pursuing a joint MD/PhD will complete these requirements in addition to the typical coursework for a medical degree, which may include topics like anatomy, genetics and neuroscience.

Most PhD programs in clinical research also require students to pass a comprehensive exam and present a dissertation proposal. Once your proposal is accepted, you'll conduct the necessary research and present your conclusions to a panel of professors.

Online Degree Options

There are no accredited online doctoral programs in clinical or translational research at the present time. PhD programs in this field are research-intensive, and the use of on-campus clinical and laboratory facilities is usually required. Although you can't complete this degree online, some programs do allow part-time study for students with work or family responsibilities.

Stand Out With This Degree

While earning your PhD in clinical research, there are a number of things that you can do in order to increase your chances on the job market upon graduation. First, try to get your own research published in a peer-reviewed, academic journal. You might also consider working as a research assistant for a project that a professor is conducting. In addition, it's helpful to get some teaching experience if you plan to seek a tenure-track university position.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS in Clinical Research Administration
      • MSHS in Regulatory Affairs
      • MSHS in Health Care Quality
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Regulatory Science
  • Online Programs Available
    3. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
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    4. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
      • Master of Healthcare Management
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    5. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA: Health Systems Management
      • MS in Health Care Administration
      • Master of Public Administration - Health Care Management
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    6. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Nursing
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
      • Master: Nursing/Nurse Administrator
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSM in Healthcare
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management

Featured Schools

The George Washington University

  • MSHS in Clinical Research Administration
  • MSHS in Regulatory Affairs
  • MSHS in Health Care Quality

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Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Science in Regulatory Science

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American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

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American InterContinental University

  • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
  • Master of Healthcare Management

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Grand Canyon University

  • MBA: Health Systems Management
  • MS in Health Care Administration
  • Master of Public Administration - Health Care Management

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Kaplan University

  • MS in Nursing
  • Master of Healthcare Admin
  • Master: Nursing/Nurse Administrator

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Colorado Technical University

  • MS - Healthcare Management
  • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management

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Northcentral University

  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

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