How ClinCept President and Founder Jay Pitts got his start in Clinical Research – Interview with Dan Sfera

What inspired Jay to become a Clinical Research Associate?

Oftentimes, when something becomes personal, one is spurred to take action.  For Jay Pitts, founder and president of ClinCept, that event was losing both grandmothers to cancer.  This led him to press into research and co-authoring papers while completing undergraduate and graduate studies, eventually leading to a position as a pharmacy tech.  As a pharmacy tech, Jay became knowledgeable about medications and interactions, while cultivating relationships with patients and learning their needs.  Jay soon realized that he could make an impact by working in clinical research, and accepted a position as a Clinical Research Coordinator at John B. Amos Cancer Center, throwing himself into his work by coordinating 30 studies simultaneously.  Jay admits that this was the “greatest worst career developmental move”. This extreme work pace forced Jay to develop quickly and it was only a year before he was approached by a Clinical Research Associate about another career elevation.

The choice of Oncology is obvious, but what makes it interesting/challenging?

Cancer is a disease that has affected so many people in the country and is the subject of medical research. Jay admits that oncology is hard to get a good grasp on, as it is so complex and always evolving.  It requires a firm, scientific foundation and knowing the behaviors of cancer, how it works, how it affects different parts of the body, and how it spreads.

How does one become a Clinical Research Associate?

The CRA role usually requires clinical research monitoring experience and an undergraduate or graduate degree in medical sciences, life sciences or nursing.  Jay highly recommends gaining experience as a coordinator and having a role in clinical research studies.  In the Atlanta market specifically, it is hard to break into, but it is a hot market, growing all the time and developing near hotspots.  The Clinical Research Associate opportunities are limitless as the position is in high demand and the growth potential is remarkable.

Most important: NETWORK!  You never know who the key to your next step is.  Treat all you meet with respect and doors will open to you.  One of the perks of being a coordinator is that networking opportunities are presented in site visits and conference travels.

Wrapped in with this is building a good rapport with the employees at the sites.  Be patient and understanding, while holding them to the protocol and standards set forth in the trial.  Being friendly with the staff can make the CRA’s job much less stressful. Your attitude towards the site staff can make or break your reputation.

What is the work/life balance like?

The work/life balance of a CRA depends largely on the company that employs you: it can range from 9AM-5PM Monday thru Friday, to extended hours and weekends, and can also include travel. It is important to be flexible going into the position.  Jay recommends not bouncing around to different companies, as “the industry is small, and people talk”. Every CRA-hopeful will have to pay their dues.

What are site visits?

In order to ensure trial sites are being compliant, site visits are required throughout the duration of the trial, usually every 4-6 weeks.  Jay makes the most of his time and reviews notes on the flight. Once at the site, Jay prefers to get the regulatory items accomplished first.  He reviews his checklist and makes sure the staff and site is compliant, and then moves on to meet with the staff.  Of course, some flexibility is required, but it is good to have a general idea of what needs to happen during a visit. 

These days, Jay has much less on his plate as far as studies go, but he is 100% dedicated to patients and their safety.

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