Push yourself to see things in a different light: An interview with Susan Fish

by Megan Frame, Membership Coordinator

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susan “Sue” Fish, PharmD, MPH, who serves as chair of PRIM&R’s Membership Committee and as a member of the Diversity Advisory Group. She is also the secretary of PRIM&R’s Board of Directors and co-chairs the Poster Abstract Sub-Committee for the 2013 AER Conference.

Sue Fish has been a PRIM&R member for ten years. She is a professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health. She is also the director of the Masters in Clinical Investigation program at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM). Sue previously held positions as director of Human Subjects Protection and associate director of the Office of Clinical Research at Boston University Medical Center (BUMC), director of the BUMC Institutional Review Board (IRB), director of Research Participant Safety at the General Clinical Research Center at BUSM, among many others. Sue has been a medical researcher for more than 30 years. She was a member of the Human Studies Committee at Boston City Hospital/Boston Medical Center from 1989-1999, and served for five years as associate chair of the committee.

Megan Frame (MF): When and why did you join the field?
Sue Fish (SF): I was a clinical researcher in emergency medicine when, in about 1997, I called the IRB office to understand the submission process at my new institution. When the IRB administrator heard that I was a pharmacist, she immediately recruited me to join the IRB. It was serendipity. I subsequently became a vice chair of the IRB and other opportunities have derived from that. Because I was both an emergency medicine researcher and an IRB member, I was very involved with the activities to revise portions of the Common Rule and the Food and Drug Administration regulations to allow emergency research to be conducted without subject consent. Due to that activity, I became involved in PRIM&R, and I have never looked back.

MF: What skills are particularly helpful in a job like yours?
SF: Attention to detail and an appreciation of the perspectives of others.

MF: Tell us about one or more articles, books, or documents that have influenced your professional life. 
SF: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers: “The true story of one family, caught between America’s two biggest policy disasters: the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina. Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun run a house-painting business in New Orleans. Told with eloquence and compassion, Zeitoun is a riveting account of one family’s unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water.” This book opened my eyes to yet another perspective and set of experiences that I had not considered. How could I have been so blind? This book has haunted me since I read it a few years ago.

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?
SF: Eva Mozes Kor’s talk at the 2010 AER Conference was remarkable. In addition, I had the opportunity to spend the day with her as her host, and hear her conversations with so many people during the book signing. What compassion she has! She continues to challenge my understanding of the effects my actions have on others and of the effects of the actions of others on me.

MF: How has membership in PRIM&R’s community of research ethics professionals helped you to advance in your career?
SF: My involvement with PRIM&R has meant almost everything to my recent career. The conferences and webinars and other educational events and documents have taught me so much and made me think. They have encouraged me to keep the ethics on the table with the regulations. The people with whom I have worked and interacted have broadened my experiences. PRIM&R has provided numerous fora for brainstorming to figure out how to do “the right thing” in so many unique situations. I have a set of trusted colleagues at other institutions who help keep me sane, and I never feel alone.

MF: Why is the issue of diversity important to you?
SF: Diversity is like motherhood and apple pie to me; it is just what makes the world interesting. How boring my life would be without people who are different from me in it! I like being pushed to see things in a different light and to dig deeper within myself to figure out why I feel the way I do about an issue. Even for topic or cause about which I am firmly committed, I try to understand why someone else comes to a different conclusion.

MF: Why did you agree to serve on PRIM&R’s Diversity Advisory Group (DAG)?
SF: Because diversity is important to the organization, and to have a DAG states the importance of this value. Also, I am hoping to learn from the members of the group, which has already happened.

Thank you, Sue, for bringing your skills and dedication to the PRIM&R community!