How to eat an elephant standing in your path

Before attending AER16, I was warned that it can be a bit overwhelming. Between the choices in sessions, the panels, the keynote speakers, and information provided, there is such a wealth of information it can be difficult to process it all. Since the Ethical Research Board (ERB) at Nashua Community College (which I chair) is quite new, the list of tasks we have to create, consider, and complete already feels endless; moreover, picking a starting place is difficult, given that everything seems essential. Two of my sessions on the second day of the conference, helped me refocus my ‘to do’ list— and provided me the title for this blog post.

Plenary Session IV: Echoes of Tuskegee in 2016? African Americans and Participation in Research considered the consequences of the unlawful and unethical experiments of Tuskegee and the continuing importance of emphasizing diversity in research. The panelists each presented on the widespread problem of biomedical research studies relying on samples that are not a representative distribution of the population, and the impact that generalizing these results can have. Though progress has been made from Tuskegee, clearly more work needs to be done to encourage and include minorities in research. Presenters Owen Garrick, MD, MBA; Jonca C. Bull, MD; Coleman K. Obasaju, MD, PhD; and Vickie M. Mays IV, PhD, MSPH each offered thoughts and suggestions on how to address the problem, but Dr. Obasaju reminded us of a favorite African proverb: that in order to tackle enormous, elephant-sized problems, one only needs to work on one piece at a time.

My next session, D13: The ABCs of Writing Standard Operating Procedures, underscored that same concept. While the presentation created by Elizabeth A. Bankert, MA; Kristina C. Borror, PhD; and Michelle M. Feige, MSW, LCSW-C, still contained the enormous amount of information I have come to expect in the didactic sessions, the presenters began with a framework for how to approach written procedures. They started the presentation by dividing the procedures and policies into the “Magnificent Seven” required procedures, other HHS requirements, and additional considerations. The organization of the presentation allowed me to apply a practical methodology to the elephant that represents the ERB procedures.

Our ERB started to create its policy and procedure manual based off of examples I have found through PRIM&R’s Knowledge Center and other IRB websites. I look forward to reporting back in a few months how we were able to incorporate these concepts from the conference into our policies and procedure manual!

Aimee E. Huard, PhD, is associate professor of social sciences and chair of the Ethical Research Board at Nashua Community College, is a member of the PRIM&R Blog Squad for the 2016 AER Conference. The PRIM&R Blog Squad is composed of PRIM&R members who are blogging here, on Ampersand, to give our readers an inside peek of what happened at the conference in Anaheim, CA.