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A shallow pool of DCT professionals to meet the vacancy boom?

The number of job postings seeking experts in decentralized clinical trials (DCTs) is skyrocketing, raising doubts whether there are enough professionals to fill these roles.

According to an analysis of Clinical Trials Arena from GlobalData’s Jobs database, new DCT job postings have increased fivefold since mid-2020, with a record 3,258 job postings at the start of 2022. There were just 270 positions advertised on DCT shortly before the identification of the first case of Covid-19.

Shelby Stillwagon, DCT Senior Manager at ProPharma, says that although there is an increase in DCT job openings, the concept of DCT is still in its infancy, so there aren’t many professionals with solid experience. She notes that she had to field calls from recruiters looking to fill DCT positions.

A spokesperson for CRO LabCorp (formerly Covance) said personnel experienced with DCT are in high demand as more companies seek to expand in this area. He is actively working to provide more training and experience opportunities to help increase the pool of qualified candidates to meet this growing need.

Nonetheless, the rise in DCT jobs signals a new career progression path for clinical trial professionals. The past two years have been a turning point for DCT, Stillwagon says. “Few sponsors were on board [DCT] then – but Covid-19 was the catalyst and made it the only option,” she adds. And even at this stage of the pandemic, it is still more and more widely adapted as the sponsors see the interest in it, she notes. In a previous analysis based on data by Clinical Trials ArenaDCT is expected to reach new heights with a jump of 28% this year, we are closely monitoring these developments via our DCT Adoption Tracker.

DCT employs a significant number of announcements

The GlobalData Job Database uses intelligent web crawlers to capture millions of jobs directly from the career pages of company websites, leading to the generation of a retailer database job attributes. Using the database, Clinical Trials Arena searched for jobs posted between July 2019 and February 2022 with keywords related to DCT. GlobalData is the parent company of Clinical Trials Arena.

Our analysis shows that 4-10% of all pharma and CRO vacancies are for DCT, with New Zealand having the highest share of vacancies globally at 33.5%. Other countries at the top of the list are Latvia (20.3%), Estonia (17.9%), Morocco (17%), Canada (16.8%) and Finland (13. 4%).

Moreover, it is not only CROs who advertise DCT jobs (47%), but also other pharmaceutical organizations (53%), such as sponsors of clinical trials. Noolie Gregory, vice president of operations management at Syneos Health DCT, says there is little difference between pharma and CRO job postings on DCT, as both conduct DCT in parallel, including organizational change and supporting stakeholders in adapting new operational working methods. Our analysis also reveals that most DCT vacancies are for mid-level positions (9,132), followed by junior-level (7,876), entry-level (4,613) and senior-level (3,482) positions.

LabCorp and Syneos advertise DCT positions externally and recruit internally, with the LabCorp spokesperson noting that the latter encourages employee growth. Core to LabCorp’s announced roles is to meet the current demand to support ongoing clinical trials with DCT capabilities, the spokesperson adds. Syneos Health also advertises DCT jobs as a way to future-proof CRO, Gregory notes. There is a need to meet current DCT needs and ensure that lessons learned are fed back into infrastructure growth, she explains.

While previous DCT experience is necessary in some roles, in other situations LabCorp would be looking for transferable skills, the spokesperson said. Syneos deliberately recruits people from different backgrounds – whether in technological, operational or patient-centric DCT roles – to enable multiple points of view, notes Gregory.

How to Switch to DCT Jobs

Stillwagon, who has worked in DCT since 2013, has some advice for clinical trial professionals looking to transition into DCT roles. First, on-site clinical trial experience is valuable because this is where these professionals understand the needs of the patient. DCT approaches are there to meet patient needs, to make the clinical trial experience more convenient, she explains.

Even if the role is with a DCT provider, experience working in a CRO is essential as it plays a central role in clinical trial operations, Steelwagon adds. Additionally, because DCT elements are technology- and logistics-focused, any experience in those areas should be emphasized, she notes.

While there are DCT elements that involve remote sensors and telemedicine, there are also elements that involve logistics, such as direct delivery of drugs to patients and nurses visiting trial participants. Syneos is open to applications from professionals from a wide range of backgrounds, including home healthcare, provider management, technology and data management, all of which have value in the DCT space, says Gregory . “If you have experience with e-consent, ePRO, vendor management and data management aspects, you will be in a great position.”

Stillwagon concludes by noting that it is essential to research what companies exist in the DCT space, as understanding what they offer allows the professional to link company assets to their own experience. Professionals looking to expand their DCT skills should gain exposure to this area in their current roles, such as applying to be assigned to a DCT, the LabCorp spokesperson adds.

Ultimately, the right attitude and ability can replace experience, notes Gregory. “We need people who are enterprising, creative and enthusiastic about launching a new initiative,” she adds. “You need to be a change agent so you can appropriately challenge people’s thinking to help with new or alternative ways of working.”

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