The impact of COVID-19 increased the demand for clinical trials professionals exponentially.
Australia’s clinical trials skills shortage has a simple cause, increased demand and reduced supply. The need for skilled clinical trial professionals has skyrocketed. Factors fuelling CT skills shortages Australia-wide include: increased growth of demand for clinical trials; increased reputation of Australia’s clinical trials sector and burnout of clinical trials workers which intensified due to the demands of the pandemic.
Australia’s clinical trial skill shortage is well documented. Skill gaps in the sector pose a risk to the capability and reputation of clinical trials in this country.
Helping the clinical trial workforce stay current in a rapidly changing environment of regulations and innovations is critical. Enabling pathways to clinical trial careers through education and training is key to solving the critical skill gaps in Australia’s clinical trial workforce.
Expert training and education from sector leaders
PRAXIS Australia’s Clinical Trial Coordinator (CTC) Internship Program addresses these critical skill gaps by providing select clinical trials interns with expert training and education from sector leaders. This selective program supports 15 interns over a 10-month timeframe, strengthening the development of key competencies by allowing them to implement what they have learnt directly into the workplace setting. The program currently operates across New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland, with the aim to expand nationally.
This initiative is aimed at building and enhancing the skills of those on the front line of clinical trial activity in Australia. The program is supported by MTPConnect’s Researcher Exchange and Development within Industry (REDI) initiative funded by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).
“COVID-19 has catapulted Australia’s clinical trials sector to new heights of global recognition. This rapid growth is generating unprecedented demand for highly skilled clinical trials professionals. The resulltant critical skills gap is a huge problem”, said Sally Armstrong – CEO, PRAXIS Australia.
A best practice, co-design approach
The internship adopts a diversity approach to address the skills gap, onboarding interns from varied demographic backgrounds and careers. The pool includes nurses transitioning into clinical trials, those making career changes, international talent and male interns entering a female-dominated field. The internship received a high level of overseas applicants with years of clinical trial experience in their own countries but who were unable to get clinical trial roles in Australia.
Adopting a best practice co-design approach, the program uses existing educational content which is enhanced by input from industry experts and includes a mentorship component to bolster the learning experience. The program is facilitated by subject matter experts from diverse backgrounds across the country.
This model ensures participants are exposed to diverse perspectives from across the sector. and has been well received.
“This program has helped me gain real hands-on experience in the clinical research sector from my host-site while receiving the background theoretical training.” said Rafha, PRAXIS CTC Intern. “The PRAXIS workshops and modules give a great overview of the different elements of the clinical trials sector, even as someone with no prior experience. I’ve only been in the program for two months and have already learnt so much.,” said Rafha.
Other participants are already looking beyond the program. Currently a Clinical Nurse in a small hospital, Gemma has always been interested in clinical trials but struggled to find a pathway into the field. As single mum of four, juggling family life, work, and running a home, Gemma was thrilled to gain a place in the highly selective program. “The PRAXIS program is proving to be an invaluable experience, and one that I will use as a platform for my future career,” said Gemma.
“A skilled workforce is critical to the future of Australian clinical trials. The clinical trial landscape demands more from this workforce than ever before and demands will accelerate with the growth of the sector into the future. Attracting people into the sector and ensuring clear development pathways for them is one way to help build the pipeline of professionals needed to meet the demands of the sector” said Professor John Zalcberg, OAM, Director of PRAXIS Australia.”
“Clinical Trial Coordinators are a large part of the Australian clinical trials workforce and are key to their success. It is crucial we do all we can to train these people and support their development. Programs like this will help Australia maintain our reputation as a leader in clinical trials and help to grow and retain the skilled workforce needed to ensure that patients benefit from high quality and impactful clinical research,” said Professor Ian Kerridge, Director of PRAXIS Australia.
Director of the REDI initiative, Jarrod Belcher, says clinical trials in Australia are growing (7% CAGR) and the workforce is struggling to keep up (4% CAGR). “As a result, we need to look at new programs to encourage clinical trials as a career, develop a competent workforce and retains skilled staff. The PRAXIS Australia CTC program attracts young talent and develops their skills and knowledge to be a competent Clinical Trial Coordinator. This program will turn out to be critical to the continued growth of clinical trials in Australia and our reputation for quality clinical trials delivered by a world class workforce.”
The program is small at present, but PRAXIS has big growth ambitions: “It’s a drop in the ocean now, and one we hope to harness the ripple effects of”, says Ms Armstrong. “Already we’ve had demand from hospitals and sites nationally and have a waiting list now, 10 times the size of the program”.
Participants are equally ambitious and are actively carving out their post-program plans. Ashley, PRAXIS CTC Internship Program participant, says the program has lifted her career aspirations.
“I knew the internship would be a great chance to build up my experience. Everyone at my host site has been so supportive, letting me shadow them before being confident enough to do things myself,” said Ashley. “My career goal is to be a coordinator and lead my own study and I feel optimistic that this internship has fast-tracked this goal.”
ABOUT PRAXIS Australia
PRAXIS Australia is a not-for-profit charity created by our members in 2015.
PRAXIS’s purpose is to provide high quality, relevant and accessible education, and training to build the confidence and capability of those working in clinical trials, research and ethics. Education and training are the key our broader purpose: to enhance the wellbeing and experience of research participants and those working in health care in Australia and internationally.
Professor John Zalcberg OAM
Professor John Zalcberg is the Head of Cancer Research and NHMRC (MRFF) Practitioner Fellow within the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University and Tony Charlton Chair of Oncology at Alfred Health. He is also the current Chair of the Australian Clinical Trials Alliance (ACTA).
Professor Ian Kerridge
Ian Kerridge is Professor of Bioethics and Medicine at the University of Sydney, Haematologist and Bone Marrow Transplant physician at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney and a Founding Director of PRAXIS Australia.