“I am an Army of one”: How can short staffed IRB administrations make IRB education possible?

by Royell Sullivan, Institutional Review Board (IRB) Education Specialist at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine

On Tuesday, I attended the session B25, titled Developing and Implementing an Education Program at an Institution with a Small Research Program. Many of the attendees expressed that while they saw the relevance behind implementing an actual educational program, they simply lacked the resources and support to do so.

Quite often, small institutions have a limited number of IRB staff members. A co-presenter of this session, Eric Allen, MA, CIP, CPIA, shared his IRB experience when he worked as “an army of one;” this was a familiar concept among the session’s attendees. Administrators place so much of their energy into administrative tasks that that there is no time or support for educational program development. Small institutions may only have the resources to distribute reading materials and ensure completion of CITI training. Sometimes, this just is not enough to meet the educational needs of the research community.

Michelle Feige of the Office for Human Research Protections’ (OHRP) Division of Education indicated that while OHRP encourages education of investigators, staff, and administration, it is not a requirement. This can make it difficult to obtain the support of your institutional official when trying to implement an educational program that focuses on IRB regulations.

I feel as though it is important to reach out to your institutional official and provide him/her with the reasons why IRB education would be beneficial for all parties involved. Educating investigators about the requirements of the IRB can make the application process easier for them, improves the quality of submissions and encourage compliance for the duration of the research. Educating the staff and board members about the regulations and how to apply them may reduce confusion, facilitate quality reviews, and improve turn-around-time. Educating the institutional official about the importance of continuous compliance provides him/her with incentive to support your educational efforts.

All parties need to understand how and why they would directly benefit from IRB education in order to make it possible and successful. I advocate premeditated education versus reactive intervention. I believe in educating before things go wrong. Reach out to your institutional official for support before a serious non-compliance issue rears its ugly head and leaves multiple parties to suffer the consequences.