Focus on the intrinsic rewards: An interview with Wendy Charles

Welcome to another installment of our featured member interviews 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 Wendy Charles, director of Research Regulatory Affairs at National Jewish Health in Denver, CO.

MF: When and why did you join the field?
WC: I first became involved in research 22 years ago. I performed my senior thesis in neuroscience on pain receptor modulation in rats. I loved the challenge of research methodology and I was hooked! I went to graduate school in neuropsychology to study recovery mechanisms after severe closed head injury, and soon after, I joined an institutional review board (IRB). The regulatory compliance field was a perfect fit with my desire to advance science in an ethical manner. As director of Research Regulatory Affairs, I oversee the regulatory compliance of the human and animal research conducted at my institution. It is extremely gratifying to see animal research translate into advances in human research.

MF: What skills are particularly helpful in a job like yours?
WC: It is critical to be detail-oriented and have a fondness for learning in a constantly changing research climate. I believe that it is also critical to have an open-minded approach to solving problems.

MF: Tell us about one or more articles, books, or documents that have influenced your professional life. 
WC: I am grateful for my institution’s library, which performs a literature search for me every week. I read between one and three academic articles each week that help me broaden my perspective on human and animal research protections. Newsletters are helpful, but only scratch the surface. There is an incredible wealth of published literature about ethical issues that arise in research.

There isn’t a single article or book that has influenced my professional life, but I have certainly been influenced by the body of research performed by Laura Stark, PhD. Her research provides valuable insight into how IRBs arrive at decisions and why IRBs make different determinations from other IRBs.

MF: Have there been any PRIM&R events or talks that you have attended that have significantly impacted your approach to your work? If so, what were they and how did they influence you?
WC: I attended the 2012 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Conference where Dennis Orgill, MD, PhD, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, presented on how the animal research he was conducting could be used to improve the lives of human burn victims. During his talk, he showed before and after pictures of burn victims’ skin. The skin grafting research performed on pigs had such a profound benefit for these burn victims that some in the audience were moved to tears. It was a very emotional presentation. I will forever cite that research to skeptics who don’t understand why we need animal research. The benefits of this research were immediately tangible.

MF: How has membership in PRIM&R’s community of research ethics professionals helped you to advance in your career? 
WC: The PRIM&R certification program helped me prepare me for the Certified IRB Professional (CIP®) exam. I believe that this certification has added credibility to my position. I also highly value PRIM&R conferences for connecting me with other individuals in my profession. I always come away from each conference with a stack of business cards. The conferences have helped me feel that I am a member of a tight-knit, supportive community.

MF: What advice have you found most helpful in your career?
WC: When I was in my first year of my first IRB manager position, a mentor from a larger IRB shared that, “If everyone likes you, you are not doing your job right. This is not a popularity contest, and sometimes you have to take a stand.” That advice has improved my confidence tremendously, and I often repeat it to my staff.

MF: What is something you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first entered this field? 
WC: I wish I had known that a compliance administrator needs incredibly thick skin to survive. The criticism may come from every angle, including from the people who are supposed to support us. The work that we do is so valuable—sometimes we have to focus on the intrinsic rewards.

MF: What is your proudest achievement?
WC: When I first arrived at my institution four and a half years ago, the IRB review office was largely viewed as an “obstacle to research.” As a result, the review office undertook aggressive efforts to improve turnaround times and customer service. It was extremely gratifying to recently hear from the institutional official that researchers could directly see the benefits of our efforts. Researchers have noted that IRB reviews are much faster and that staff members are more helpful. Our IRB staff knew they were making a difference and our metrics demonstrated improvement, but it took a while to change our image at the institution. All of that effort was worth it!

Thank you for being part of the membership community and sharing your story, Wendy. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a member, please visit our website today.