As Linical’s Senior Director Clinical Monitoring and former CRA/road warrior, work/life balance during travel is a topic near and dear to me. In our Linical CRA Academy (where study coordinators, site directors and other research professionals receive training to bridge to a CRA role) this is one of the most valuable and fun topics we explore together in the program: “Work/Life Balance When on the Road.”
There is a honeymoon period when every new CRA begins their career and first ventures out to experience the travel life. New airports, new cities, new restaurants, new hotels, and many “firsts” mask the seeming lack of a personal life (sans weekends at home and a few days in office here and there.) What do CRAs, aka “road warriors” do when the reality of 70% travel sets in and they are seeking work/life balance on the road? The answer is there are infinite possibilities of things to do, but it requires some intentional thought and exploration to uncover the options that are meaningful to each individual.
Several members of the Linical CRA team have found inventive avenues for enjoying a personal life when on the road. Melanie Culver, Sr. CRA shared this with me: “For anyone that knows me, knows I am a foodie and explorer by heart. When I am assigned a new site somewhere that I have not been, I create a Pinterest board and search for cool local shops and restaurants as well as seeing what the towns nearby have to offer in the way of outdoor activities such as fishing or hiking. I do not eat at chain restaurants if I can help it. I am not a picky eater so I will try anything! One of my favorite things I discovered to do up in Oklahoma was visit the Clydesdale Farm. Have you ever stood next to one of those magnificent horses? They’re huge!” Her approach is very intentional – clearly, she was attentive during the training module! Diana Gold, Sr. CRA landed on a great way to stay connected with family: “Cyndy and I used to send each other a picture of our dinner when I was on the road. We would say it was so we felt like we were having dinner together but I think we were just checking to make sure the other was eating!“ Another Sr. CRA, Hiedi Gooch is very in tune with what her soul needs: “I always get excited about a new city… but even if I have visited there before I always look for WATER! Rivers- lakes- beaches- waterfalls- fountains…. Water of any kind! That is my happy place and if I have 30 mins before I head to the airport I will look up “water near me” 😊 I don’t know why it’s my thing but I truly love it and I have some really cool pictures building up these past 3 years.”
One CRA set a goal to visit a driving range in every state in the US and hit golf balls! I had the personal goal to shop at every Ross in every city that had a Ross. CRA life affords opportunities to meet these types of personal goals and have some work/life balance. Frank Beylotte, CRA I confessed “I always go to the local record stores. That’s great way to meet locals and learn about interesting and fun spots. Unfortunately, records are pricey and I may end up spending more than I should.” Some CRA’s take time to play video games, binge watch a series, read books, crochet, or draw. Melanie also shared one of her ventures: “I did go traipsing through the Oregon forest once to find Bigfoot as well. He must have been taking a nap – I never saw him. I have quite an extensive Bigfoot t-shirt collection from most states I have visited and plan to make a t-shirt quilt once I have acquired enough of them!” In cities that provide opportunities to play bingo, visit a casino or go to a horse race, there are many CRAs who would indulge and are pretty excited about winnings, not so much about losing; but on the upside Casinos typically have excellent and economical food.
I admire the CRAs who are intentional about their health and well-being during travel. Frank also shared “I try to get a Home2 type room if available. They have small kitchens. It has a more homey feel. Especially if doing multiple day visits. And instead of going out to eat, I get groceries from Trader Joe’s. Then I cook similar to what I do at home and facetime back home. The restaurant thing got kind of lonely fast even though I still try to grab a regional dish like seafood in Boston.” Others have shared that they ensure they are loyal to their workout program doing hotel room yoga, visiting hotel gyms, or going running/walking/hiking in each city they visit. Staying at the same hotel, and if possible, in the same room has been reported to enhance sleep. Over time you start to really feel that room ### is YOUR room.
Occasionally there is an opportunity to have family accompany CRAs on a trip. While the CRA is eyeball deep in documents, family can enjoy the hotel amenities or local attractions and all can have dinner together. This can take some careful planning and requires a backup plan because as you know last minute site visit cancellations happen.
Nothing makes me prouder that to witness the Linical CRA Academy graduates soar and succeed and put into practice the things they learn in the program. Melanie wrote the perfect ending for this article. I do not think it could be said any better:
The CRA life can be lonely if you are not good at being adaptive to your surroundings. We travel alone, eat alone, and get stuck in hall closets reviewing charts alone all day. However, if you take time to go for a walk at lunch, take a hike at a close by national park, find a new place to eat, or see what the most unique thing the town has to offer, you almost feel like you’re on your own little mini vacation rather than scanning charts and reviewing data all day. Just doing those few things can give you much need work-life balance during your work travels.
In writing this article, I reflected back on all my personal experiences over my career as a CRA and I find myself ready to do it all over again!
Suzanne Mathias, Senior Director Clinical Monitoring
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The Linical CRA Team