Nothing lasts forever: An interview with Roberto Veloso

Today we’d like to introduce you to Roberto Veloso, JD, who serves as a member of PRIM&R’s Diversity Advisory Group.

Roberto has been a PRIM&R member for three years. He is an associate professor and chair of the IRB at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (RMU) in Provo, Utah. He is also an attorney practicing law in Annapolis, Maryland.

Working remotely from Annapolis, Roberto leads the institutional review board (IRB) at RMU and oversees the design, development, and implementation of online curricula to educate researchers at the university regarding human research protections issues. Over the course of his career, Roberto has worked as an assistant attorney general for the state of Maryland, as a trial lawyer in private practice and for the insurance industry. Roberto has an active civic life and has served on a number of municipal boards and commissions.

Roberto received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and his Juris Doctor at American University, Washington College of Law, in Washington, DC. 

Joanna Cardinal (JC): When and why did you join the field?
Roberto Velso (RV): I first became involved in the field in 2008, when I was asked to serve as a non-affiliated community member on an IRB. Given my extensive background as an attorney handling regulatory compliance matters, as well as my work in several municipal commissions on civil rights issues, I felt I could really make a contribution to the IRB. I found the work to be fascinating and incredibly rewarding as it involved the overlap of my two favorite academic fields: philosophy and law. A year later, I was appointed chair of the IRB.

JC: What skills are particularly helpful in a job like yours?
RV: The most challenging work I’ve done as an attorney has involved dealing with the grey areas—those situations where a particular set of facts doesn’t quite fit with the requirements of the law, or laws that are unclear or subject to a variety of interpretations. Learning how to operate in these grey areas has been invaluable as I lead the IRB in asking the difficult questions and making the tough calls, which we invariably have to do sometimes.

JC: Tell us about one or more articles, books, or documents that have influenced your professional life. 
RV: The seminal works of Plato, Socrates, Augustine, Aquinas, Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau that I read as philosophy major in my undergraduate days continue to inform my world view and professional life to this day. More recent books that I’ve found invaluable include Robert Amdur and Elizabeth Bankert’s  Institutional Review Board: Management and Function and OHRP’s IRB Guidebook, which I turn to time and time again. Additionally, I’ve found several books written by Jerry Menikoff to also be particularly interesting and thought provoking.

JC: Why is the issue of diversity important to you? 
RV: As an immigrant from a biracial family, I have unique insights into the subtle and not so subtle barriers posed by prejudice and discrimination. These barriers are a huge hindrance to our society and it ends up hurting everyone. Improving diversity in the workplace is one of the steps our society can take towards breaking down the barriers posed by prejudice and discrimination.

JC: Why did you agree to serve on PRIM&R’s Diversity Advisory Group (DAG)? 
RV: Improving the diversity of PRIM&R’s membership is a logical first step to improving the diversity of the human research protections and clinical research fields. This is especially important because, as we look back at some of the more egregious cases of human rights violations in clinical research settings (e.g., Nazi experimentation, the Guatemala syphilis studies, the US Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, and even in the Havasupai Indians genetic testing studies), race and/or ethnicity played a significant role. Increasing diversity in the fields of human research protections and clinical research could help prevent future human rights violations from occurring.

JC: What would you suggest to readers who are looking to strengthen the diversity of their institution, organization, or company? 
RV: The subtle forms of prejudice and racism that create barriers to diversity can best be conquered on a personal level. It’s a lot harder to pre-judge a person who is different from you when you happen to know someone that shares some of those same differences. So while exploring ways to increase the diversity of an institution, look for ways to increase the diversity of the personal and professional relationships of the individuals working for the institution.

JC: What advice have you found most helpful in your career?  
RV: Nothing lasts forever: even the most problematic study will eventually come to an end.

JC: What is something you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first entered this field? 
RV: When an IRB-related question has you really stumped, go back and read the Belmont Report!

Interested in hearing more from the DAG? Join us on December 6 at the 2012 AER Conference for Grand Finale 7 -The Uncomfortable Conversation: Talking about Diversity.

Your thoughts on this important topic are welcome. To share your perspective on diversity with the DAG, please leave a comment or email