It's not often that we stop to think about what life would be like without clinical research associates to monitor food and drug tests. One answer is that it would probably be a lot like the past, when regulations were less stringent. All we have to do is think back fifty, sixty, seventy years to realize the importance of drug and food monitoring. There was the Elixir Sulfanilamide Incident, where a medication prescribed to patients with strep throat resulted in the premature death of more than a hundred Americans. You also have the thalidomide baby tragedy, which caused babies in North American and Europe to be born with life-changing deformations such as missing limbs, a tragedy that continues to make headlines still, and for good reason: Good clinical research can save lives and preserve health, and we must not ever forget that.
This discipline actually has very long roots - Persian philosopher Ibn Sina was writing about a primitive form of clinical research trial in the 10th century. But the field did not see significant evolution until the 20th century, when the United States brought in change by passing the Pure Food and Drug Act. By the late '40s, the international community had gotten in on the act, with many countries choosing to adhere to the Nuremberg Code, which set out some ethical guidelines for researchers.
An Early Hero
American chemist (and Civil War vet) Harvey Washington Wiley broke new ground that students in the discipline around the world continue to learn about today. His "poison squad" volunteered themselves as guinea pigs for questionable substances - an unorthodox method that nonetheless underscored the importance of testing.
The Situation Today: Who Can Train to Become a Clinical Research Associate?
You have probably seen advertisements for clinical research courses. Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, most cities have them.
However, it should be noted that these courses are not the kind of thing that you can simply sign up for straight out of high school. Although requirements may vary, depending, for instance, on the school, or the city (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, etc.), most people who embark on a certificate in this subject already have some kind of healthcare or science-related degree, for example:
- physical therapy
- ultrasound technician
In fact, many of the people who take clinical research training do so as part of their job. Often it is employers who encourage their employees to seek additional training in order to become a clinical research associate.
In conclusion, clinical research associates may work in relative obscurity, but they are lifesavers for whom we should be eternally grateful.