Medical devices can't help patients if they haven't been tested by their manufacturers and approved by the government. The companies that make these devices need professionals to design and conduct clinical trials on their products.

Because so many device manufacturers are based in the Twin Cities, area colleges have developed programs to educate these professionals. The newest such program, at St. Cloud State University's Maple Grove campus, will welcome its first students this month.

Helping workers get ahead

The master's of science in applied clinical research ( is designed for people already working in the industry and those looking to become clinical research professionals in the medical technology industry, according to David DeGroote, Dean of Science and Engineering at St. Cloud State. It's a two-year program with classes offered evenings and weekends and taught by industry professionals.

"You need to have the people who work with the FDA on designing and running these types of clinical trials and who understand the regulations and guidance for new medical products coming into the classroom in the evening and saying, `This is what's happening,'" DeGroote said. "That's what makes these kinds of programs really relevant for the working professional."

The applied clinical research degree, which will train students to design and run human trials, is the second master's degree program the college has developed to address a shortage of medical device industry support professionals. The first degree program, in regulatory affairs, was launched in 2007.

DeGroote expects that first applied clinical research graduates to find jobs paying from $75,000 to $100,000, depending on background experience.

A master's alternative

Those who don't want to pursue a master's degree in clinical research may obtain a certificate from a 22-credit program at Anoka-Ramsey Community College (

"There is a prerequisite that individuals already have earned a two- or four-year RN degree or four-year degree in pharmacology or biological sciences," explained Robin Robatcek, director of Biomedical Business and Technology programs at Anoka-Ramsey. Students in the 10-year-old program, also taught by industry professionals, have come from backgrounds as varied as chemistry to chiropractic, as well as physicians, engineers and biologists.

"It really prepares them specifically for this field and has been designed with the aid of our industry," Robatcek said. "This particular certificate program prepares our students to coordinate and manage clinical research studies for medical device companies or other health-related companies as well. They are able to hit the ground running."