Embracing ethics: My experience at the 2009 AER Conference

Oluyemisi Akinwande, a 2009 Advancing Ethical Research Conference scholar, remarks on what she learned at the conference, and shares updates on how her experiences have influenced her work at home in Nigeria.

I became familiar with PRIM&R’s AER Conference in an interesting way; in the midst of clearing away some old papers, I stumbled on one that had information on a research ethics meeting being held in Nashville, TN. I found the prospect exciting; I had never heard of, or attended, a conference on ethics before!

In light of research ethics being a key component of my work at the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN), I investigated, applied for, and received the scholarship.

The IHVN, where I worked at the time as the head of research operations, had recently created a department to ensure proper coordination of all aspects of research amongst the faculty at the Institute of Human Virology Baltimore, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the various collaborating universities and teaching hospitals in Nigeria. This involved obtaining ethical approvals, training members of the ethics committees, training investigators and other members of the research team, assuring compliance, and so on. Thus, the opportunity to attend the 2009 AER Conference seemed a fitting place for me to increase my education, widen my scope, and build my network.

When I arrived in Nashville, the organization of logistics by PRIM&R was excellent. Every aspect was handled promptly and professionally. Travel and settling in at the hotel went well, and a tour of the Vanderbilt University Clinical Research Center was arranged for scholars on the day prior to the conference. The tour provided me an opportunity to learn about the structure and coordination of research. While at the university, we had a lunch meeting with some of the institutional review board (IRB) members who gave talks about IRB structure, composition, and research protocols. This day provided an excellent opportunity for me to get to know the scholars from other countries.

The conference was full of very educational sessions.  All the sessions I attended provided a wealth of information on research ethics and good clinical practice, at different levels, and for different roles. As part of the conference, there was also an exhibition hall that showcased several organizations and a poster session.

As a scholar, I was assigned a conference buddy: Nancy Erdey of Case Western University School of Medicine. I communicated with Nancy via email prior to the conference, and we arranged a place to meet. She was a very good companion at the conference. While we didn’t attend the same sessions all the time, we always arranged to meet for breakfast, lunch, and in between the sessions. During those meetings, she explained the history of PRIM&R, the significance of some of the displays, and helped me navigate the hotel. Nancy was an asset to making me feel at ease at the conference; it was as though I came with a friend or ran into a friend I had always known.

My attendance at the conference broadened my understanding of research ethics and showed me the importance of each member of the research team, including the community members. The conference also helped shed light on events happening in other parts of the world.

On my return to Nigeria, I continued to provide oversight for research operations at IHVN and shared my experiences from the conference with my colleagues at every opportunity. Outside IHVN, I gave talks on research ethics to doctors in training programs, including the residency program in community and preventive medicine at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile Ife, Nigeria. I also shared my experiences from the conference and scholarship program during these sessions.

My current position is at the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs of the Mailman School of Public Health, an international non-governmental organization for the prevention, treatment, and care of HIV/AIDS and related diseases, and for operational research through public health evaluations. In this new position, I am in charge of research and public health evaluation. I have organized and co-facilitated training workshops in the fundamentals of clinical research using the opportunity to increase awareness on ethical issues and the need for compliance to local and international regulations. In this current training program, I’ve shared and discussed ethical case studies, one of which is the Jesse Gelsinger case study, which I learned about from my PRIM&R conference materials.

Overall, my affiliation with PRIM&R has been short, but very rewarding. It has infused me with confidence and broadened my horizons in research ethics. I intend to nurture this professional association and spread the news to others.