Choosing a Thoughtful, Collaborative Path

by Stephanie Pyle, MFA, manager of community and communications, Schulman Associates IRB

More than six months after the 2013 Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference, members of the PRIM&R Blog Squad are still benefiting from the experiences they had at the conference. With the start of registration for the 2014 AER Conference around the corner, we’re pleased to share a few of their reflections.

Even though it’s been several months since 2013 AER Conference, I’m still thinking back on the wonderful things I learned from the conference—simple ways I can improve the way I work with my colleagues and the way I go about my professionals responsibilities.

In particular, one lesson I’m still savoring is that which was offered by Atul Gawande, MD, MPH. During his talk, Dr. Gawande told the story of a girl who had drowned in an icy lake: she was rushed to a hospital in her small Austrian town, and for two hours she was essentially dead. But, despite the hospital’s lack of high-tech emergency equipment, the staff at the hospital was able to bring her back.

Dr. Gawande suggested that the staff was able achieve this extraordinary feat because they had learned to approach scenarios together, in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, rather than relying on high-tech devices. By working as a team and choosing careful, purposeful steps, the hospital staff was able to save the young frozen, drowning victim.

Dr. Gawande’s presentation, and many others I attended at the 2013 AER Conference, reminded me of the importance of collaborative decision making. Sometimes the most complex answers aren’t always the best. I’ve seen this type of thoughtful decision making modeled by IRBs conducting protocol review, and it is something that I think we should work to apply to all aspects of human subjects protections. To that end, since the conference, I’ve been making a conscious effort to pause before making important decisions—taking a breath and making a quick list—rather than leaping to (what appears to be) the obvious solution.

Personally, I love to hear about the processes that people take to reach a solution, because there is so much that can be learned in the steps that lead to the resolution of an issue. As in IRB meetings, talking things through with others can be a terrific way to find the best way to approach new challenges—even a short conversation can help uncover a better way to do things. While we are no longer all gathered together, I hope that we can continue to communicate with each other and share our own purposeful steps. Let’s help each other find those best paths.