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My role as a CRP and how it helped to shape my career

Farhan Naim, who is now Director of Research and Development at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, believes his time as a clinical research practitioner (CRP) was a key stage in his career development.

The CRP accredited register was established in 2021 and delivered in partnership by the NIHR and the Academy for Healthcare Science Accredited Registers Programme. It is recognised by the Professional Standards Authority.

CRP is an umbrella title used for a family of roles in research delivery that have a patient-facing element and where the post holder isn’t currently registered to a healthcare profession.

Farhan feels the setting up of the register is an important step in greater ‘professionalisation’ for CRPs and the vital role they play in research delivery.

“Anything which works towards CRPs becoming a recognised profession is definitely a good thing,” explained Farhan. “I would have valued being on a register like that when I was a CRP to help consolidate my identity as a clinical research professional.”

In Farhan’s career in research, his time as a CRP runs from 2001 to 2010 and takes in a variety of research roles.

He said: “I knew I wanted a career in a medically related field but was unsure of which line to pursue on graduation. I had studied Human Biology at King’s College London. Rather fortunately, because of a chance advert in the local paper, I started my career at Hammersmith Medicines Research as a clinical trials assistant. There, I fell in love with all aspects of clinical research and realised the crucial role it played in advancing patient outcomes. Then I moved on to Guy’s Hospital Quintiles Drug Research Unit, to be a clinical trials associate.

“I ended up being very well trained in how clinical trials were conducted and regulated. I wanted to bring these skills into a specific disease setting, so I looked around and found a role with the West London Cancer Research Network [a forerunner of CRN North West London] as a CRP. It allowed me to work with world-renowned oncologists and the chance to interact with patients which was an aspiration of mine.

“I then progressed to lead a team of research delivery staff at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, before becoming a portfolio manager for oncology research at the Royal Free Hospital.”

A moved to become deputy R&D director of the trust followed in 2013, before he was made director in 2018.

Still, Farhan looks back fondly on this time as a CRP. He explains: “I kind of fell into it, but it is a very broad profession. A CRP is a clinical role. It gives someone who is not a clinician the chance to work with patients in a clinical setting and support important research. People might come from scientific academic backgrounds unsure of what to do with their degrees.  These people often do not know that there’s this whole world of clinical research that goes on including the CRP role. As a CRP, you can have an element of science about your role, work with patients, and gain excellent experience in research governance, regulation and management.

“My experience as a CRP really helped me to understand how research can succeed in an NHS trust setting and how research teams are best be supported to deliver ground-breaking research. Of course, this insight has been extremely beneficial in my current role.

“With the emergence of the CRP register my vision for CRPs is that in time they will become a recognised profession in the NHS in a similar way to how the physician associate role has been adopted over the last decade or so.”

The early stages of his career helped Farhan understand how important it was for research to have a seat at the table within an NHS trust.

“The first thing really is communication. It’s really championing that message of the value of research at board level and beyond. The Care Quality Commission making research part of its inspection criteria has helped, too. When I started as a CRP in the NHS, research wasn’t always a high operational priority. I recall speaking to patients about trials in corridors, but we have won some hearts and minds along the way and things are much better these days.”

“You need to keep an unrelenting focus on that higher objective of research improving lives, outcomes and experiences of patients now and in the future.”

If you are a CRP, click here to visit the CRP Register.