In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
Public health research studies are usually originated by professors or doctoral-level researchers. But it’s the study coordinators who keep these studies going from day to day. They arrange for recruitment of research participants, set up appointments, manage the data, help prepare updates for funders, and supervise staff. If there are samples or other physical materials involved, they make sure they are properly catalogued and stored. They manage communications, serving as a link between the primary researcher and various assistants, technicians, and clinical or laboratory personnel. Sometimes the coordinator also helps carry out the research. Research coordinators may have opportunities to help author scientific papers and other publications. They may also be involved in submitting grant proposals and obtaining approval from their organizations’ Institutional Review Boards, which judge studies for ethical acceptability.
Education and Certification
The educational requirements for this job vary widely. A typical requirement is a bachelor’s degree in a field related to the research topic, with training in research principles. Some studies require the coordinator to have a master’s degree. If there are clinical responsibilities involved, the coordinator may need to be a nurse or physician assistant. The coordinator of a clinical trial—such as a test of a new medication—may need certification as a Certified Clinical Research Coordinator or Certified Clinical Research Professional; however, these studies are less likely to be considered public health research.
Core Competencies and Skills
- Attention to detail
- Good communication skills
- Excellent organizational skills
- Ability to multitask, prioritize, and delegate tasks efficiently
- Ability to follow directions and use good judgment when unexpected situations arise
- Understanding of research practices, study design, and research ethics
- Knowledge of regulations regarding research
Compensation is influenced by the size of the study, whether the coordinator oversees more than one study, the level of responsibility, and the specific tasks involved. A job at one university in the North-Central U.S. requires a master’s degree and offers a minimum salary of $30,000 per year. Another, in the Midwest, asks for at least a bachelor’s and 2 years’ experience and offers $37,000 to $49,000. One example from a major urban area offers $50,000 to $60,000 to start.
Research coordinators involved in public health research work at universities and government agencies; there are also nonprofits and consulting firms that carry out studies.
Research is what drives schools of public health, and there is always more to be learned. National data are not available for this specific job title; however, as long as there is funding for research, these jobs should continue to be available. Study coordinator is often a step on the path to a research career or to other opportunities.
For Further Information
A good place to learn about public health research projects is at the annual meeting of APHA. Brief research reports from past years’ meetings are available at www.apha.org.