Boot Camp, PRIM&R Style!

by Michael (Mike) Kraten, PhD, CPA, IRB Chair at Providence College

PRIM&R is pleased to share a post from Mike Kraten, a member of the PRIM&R Blog Squad for the 2014 Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference. The PRIM&R Blog Squad is composed of PRIM&R members who will blog here, on Ampersand, about the conference to give our readers an inside peek of what’s happening December 4-7 in Baltimore, MD. 

What should an AER Conference attendee do if (s)he arrives the day before the first day of the main conference?

Explore the city? Wander through the shops at the Inner Harbor? Read the conference schedule from cover to cover?

I had a better idea: go to boot camp! The Institutional Review Board (IRB) Chairs Boot Camp: Tools for Successful IRB Leadership, that is.

As the new IRB chair at Providence College, attending the pre-conference program, IRB Chairs Boot Camp, seemed like a sensible way to learn the fundamental responsibilities associated with my new position. But because I’ve never served in the armed forces, I wasn’t quite sure expect from a PRIM&R “boot camp.”

What would we do there? Would we engage in high impact calisthenics? And dine on military rations?

Not quite! Instead of jumping jacks and jogs around the track, we sat at large round tables and drank our “standard issue” Starbucks coffee. But that wasn’t the only pleasant surprise that I encountered during the boot camp.

The biggest surprise was the emphasis on the human element of leading (i.e., chairing) groups of individuals who must voice different perspectives on contentious issues and yet must also achieve consensus. That responsibility is the element of chairing that I find most challenging. To my delight, it served as a key focus of the boot camp.

The first session, in fact, was titled “Methods and Challenges When Running The IRB Meeting.” Faculty members Paul Reitemeier, Bruce Gordon, and James Feldman presented their perspectives and entertained questions from an audience of well over 100 attendees.

In keeping with the spirit of the boot camp theme, some of their suggestions were conveyed with a distinctly military flair. For instance, Dr. Gordon’s suggestion that chairs “allow retreat with honor” after individuals express combative positions, could have been found in many battlefield manuals.

And yet many of his other suggestions were purely focused on managing the process of group dynamics. His “avoid ‘you'” recommendation, for example, emphasized the importance of addressing underlying concerns, as opposed to assigning blame to the individuals who may have been responsible for causing them.

As a faculty member at a liberal arts college with no medical or nursing programs, the biggest take away was the sheer amount of insight that I managed to glean from the presentations of professionals who specialize in the biomedical field. For me, This illustrated that when the focus is on interpersonal management skills, as opposed to technical knowledge, the conversation is valuable to everyone. And what better place, than at a PRIM&R conference, to discover these commonalities?