Featured Member Profile: Judith-Samans-Dunn

Welcome to another installment of our featured member profile where we will continue to introduce you to more of our members—individuals 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 Judith Samans-Dunn, MSIA, CIP, IRB administrator at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and director of the Strawberry Mansion Health Center.

When and why did you join the field?
In 1994, the secretary for the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects retired from her position with Philadelphia Department of Public Health (she was director of nursing). I was always interested in learning about additional areas of the department, and so I volunteered for this small add-on duty to my then regular position as director of the city’s STD clinic. Little did I know how this small task would take on a life of its own, as the number of studies under review blossomed over the years from about 11 to more than 100.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I consider part of my role to be a resource to department administrators, researchers, graduate students, and anyone else with interest in human subjects research. As such, my favorite part of the job is when I can guide individuals through the combined government and research ethics requirements to facilitate their projects while ensuring proper protection of research subjects. Any time I can educate a person before they step in administrative pitfalls, I feel I have been of service. I also love the intellectual stimulation that comes from reviewing all of these diverse proposals and meeting and conversing with the multitude of researchers that come our way.
Which living person do you most admire?
Answering a question like this is always full of pitfalls. I’m going to go out on a proverbial limb and say Hillary Clinton. The reason is not so much because I agree with everything she has ever done. It is because she has done two things that I consider next to impossible, and is still standing strong. Under her husband’s presidency, she pushed for health care reform in this country far before it was politically feasible. She stood out as an advocate. She worked tirelessly in the face of certain failure, because she believed in her convictions. I truly admire that.

Then, when her husband so publicly had his own ethical issues with their private life, she held her tongue. Although both she and her husband held public roles, she retained her dignity, and kept her private feelings just that, and maintained a blemish-free public persona. She is an amazing person.

What do you most value in your friends? 
This question is easy for me to answer. They must be reliable, but by this I do not mean that a person is there to do anything and everything I want them to do. I mean that the person will do what they say they will do. A good friend will be honest with you, even if it is not what you want. That same good friend will accept when you have differences, and still be your good friend. Such a friend is a friend for life, because we can overcome any hurdles together and rely on each other.
Why did you join PRIM&R?
Having two demanding jobs is much easier when there are adequate resources available to keep you abreast of the latest developments. PRIM&R affords me easy access to the latest research ethics developments, provides me with resources that I can select from, and enables me to focus on the areas most relevant to the research we review. Attached to that professional development is the ability to test my knowledge through the CITI Collaborative and to become a Certified IRB Professional® (yes, at a reduced rate). It is embarrassing to admit that one significant reason I joined PRIM&R was to network, and at that I have as yet mostly failed. Hopefully this request for my information will spur me to make the time for this very important aspect of membership!
If you were planning our next conference, who would you select as a keynote speaker?
As a keynote speaker, I would ask Susan Reverby. I find it amazing that something as horrendous as the US involvement in the Guatemala Syphilis study could have, until recently, remained totally buried out of sight of the ethics community. I think it would be especially interesting to ask what she was looking for when she stumbled across this study? How did she feel when she realized what she had found? What steps would she recommend to the research community? Finally, I would ask her, how has this discovery changed her?
What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?
Despite the occasional horror stories that one reads about in the news, I believe that researchers want to improve our world. My motivation in advancing ethical research is to be involved in the small way that my talents allow. I have organization skills, writing skills, analytical skills, but I am not a researcher. So my motivation comes from being able to coordinate the ethical review of research. Despite the belief that researchers want to improve our world, I also know that they are predisposed to bias that blinds them from seeing where their procedures may coerce individuals, may be too obscure for participants to reasonably understand, or other faults. If my participation in the process helps channel the investigators’ enthusiasm into a more participant-friendly product, then I have been an important cog in the ethical research wheel.

Thank you for being part of the membership community and sharing your story, Judith. We hope you enjoyed the presentation by Dr. Reverby at the 2011 Advancing Ethical Research Conference.

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a member, please visit our website today.