Featured Member Interview: Elizabeth Small

As part of our Member Appreciation Month, we’re launching a series of Ampersand posts that will introduce you to our members, who work to advance ethical research on a daily basis. Please read on to learn more about their professional experiences, how membership helps connect them to a larger community, and what goes on behind-the-scenes in their lives!

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth Small, MPH, CIP, and the administrative director of the IRB at New York State Psychiatric Institute.
When and why did you join the field?
As many folks did, I joined early in the field (1983!). I started by chance in a field that was not well defined at the time. I was a student in the School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City, and was looking for a way to earn money close to home and school. My advisor heard about an opening in the IRB office at the Medical Center. Neither of us knew much about the actual work of IRBs then. It seemed like a great opportunity for me to take on the challenge of working in uncharted territory at a time of heightened awareness of biomedical ethics and growing biomedical science.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Since entering the field, there have been tremendous advances in medicine through research and, more specifically, in mental illness treatment. Psychiatric research, which is largely the focus of our IRB, presents ethical issues that are not always well articulated and for which additional protections and special considerations are warranted. Addressing these issues has been a challenge, but a gratifying one.
That said, our office is amazing and a favorite part of my job involves the day-to-day collegiality and support of IRB members and staff who work enthusiastically and tirelessly every day, and from whom I’ve learned more than I’ve shared. (NOTE to my colleagues who are reading this: A sincere thank you! It’s not said often enough!)
What’s your after-hours guilty pleasure?
Auctions, flea markets, eBay. My husband and I are collectors of Wallace Nutting hand-tinted photographs, which were produced and sold between 1900-1941. Guilty or not, our search continues even with some of our collection “hanging” on the floor. We recently stumbled on a very unusual print and, uncharacteristically, decided not to keep it and auction it. We’ll see the results in May.
Why did you join PRIM&R?
PRIM&R has provided, even in its earliest days, opportunities for professional development though networking, educational programs, and conferences. The growth of the field is reflected in the growth of PRIM&R, and in the increased interest and membership.
What is your favorite member benefit?
My favorite benefits are the discounts on conference registration and CIP® certification.
If you were planning our next conference, who would you select as a keynote speaker?
I’d select Kathleen Sebelius. I’d like to hear about the impact and challenges of health care reform on research.
What do you believe is a key challenge facing the field of research ethics?
The key challenge has been fundamental to the field since its beginning and is especially challenging as medical science and technology move forward: How do we balance the interests of the scientist with the interests and welfare of the individual subject? The problem of conflict is not new, but I think research institutions, academic centers, researchers, and IRBs are in an increasingly better position to collaborate and promote the interests and well being of research volunteers.
Thank you for being part of the membership community and sharing your story, Elizabeth. Good luck with your auction!
If you’d like to learn more about becoming a member, please visit our website today.