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How Do I Become a Clinical Programmer?

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  • Written By: Meghan Perry
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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To become a clinical programmer, knowledge of both computer programming and medicine or the sciences is usually necessary. In order to get an entry-level job as a clinical programmer, a bachelor's degree is generally required. To obtain a supervisory position as a clinical programmer, an advanced degree is often needed. Some type of experience in the field is often an additional requirement to become a clinical programmer.

A clinical programmer usually works with the databases used in clinical medical trials. Programmers may design or manage the databases used in clinical research. They may monitor and coordinate the data gathered in the trials and are usually responsible for finding solutions to technical problems that may occur in the databases. Strong communication skills are usually essential for clinical programmers as they are often the people who disseminate the data to other parties involved in the clinical trials.

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Working mainly with computer databases, a clinical programmer usually needs background or experience in writing computer code. A two-year computer programming degree may provide the essential computer knowledge to become a clinical programmer. That alone, however, is not enough to enter the field; generally, a four-year degree is also required. This degree may be in a variety of disciplines, including the sciences, such as life science; medicine or health care, such as nursing or pharmacology; or technology, such as information systems. All of these degrees, along with computer programming knowledge, should provide a strong enough background to become a clinical programmer.

Previous work experience in an environment in which clinical research is performed may also be required to become a clinical programmer. Two years of experience is often sufficient to gain entry-level employment. This type of experience may be in pharmaceutical programming, for example. If someone wishes to advance to a supervisory position as a clinical programmer, three to five years of experience is often required, and an advanced degree may also be needed.

Other skills that may be necessary to become a clinical programmer include the ability to meet deadlines because clinical trials are often very rigid in their deadline standards. Willingness to work long hours may go along with the ability to meet deadlines as coordinating data may take more time toward the end of a clinical study. The ability to work with a variety of people is also important if the clinical programmer is needed to act as the liaison between different groups working on the trial.

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