The Need to Do What is Right: An Interview with Bruce Gordon

by Caroline Slymon, executive coordinator

In January, PRIM&R welcomed two new members to its board of directors, including Bruce Gordon, MD. Dr. Gordon is professor of pediatrics in the section of pediatric hematology/oncology and stem cell transplantation at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). Dr. Gordon has been a member of the UNMC institutional review board (IRB) since 1992, served as chair since 1996, and served as executive chair since 2011. He also organized, and is first chair of, a joint pediatric IRB with the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. He has served on a variety of national committees and task forces, including the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections Subpart A Subcommittee, and the National Cancer Institute Pediatric Central IRB, where he served as its first chair. Dr. Gordon has been a faculty member at PRIM&R’s regional and national conferences, served as the planning committee co-chair for the 2009 Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference, and is the author of numerous papers, review articles, and abstracts regarding human subjects protections and research ethics.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Gordon about his experiences in the field as well as his involvement with PRIM&R.

Caroline Slymon (CS): When and why did you join the field?
Bruce Gordon (BG): I was an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska and did not even know what an IRB was. Ernie Prentice called me to let me know that they needed an oncologist on the UNMC IRB and persuaded me to sign up. I agreed to serve for one year, and here I am twenty years later.

CS: What skills are particularly helpful in a job like yours?
BG: I was raised in New York City, and no one has ever suggested that I am quiet. I find that this is an asset for an IRB chair. It is also important to be able to both have your own opinions and see other views. Being good with people, as well as organized, also help as an IRB chair.

CS: What motivates you to maintain your commitment to advancing ethical research?
BG: Justice, the need to do what is right, has always been a value to me and my family. This work is my way of serving that value.

CS: Tell us about one or more articles, books, or documents that have influenced your professional life.
BG: I’m fascinated by the simplicity of all seven clear and lucid pages of The Belmont Report. I also love history, and I learned an incredible amount from Susan Lederer’s Subjected to Science.

CS: 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?
BG: PRIM&R’s annual Advancing Ethical Research Conference consistently makes me consider what I am or should be questioning. I’ve learned to question what I think I know, and I’ve learned that there are valid viewpoints other than my own.

CS: What is one thing you wish the general public knew about human subjects research?
BG: It is not a competition. Nothing is all good or all bad, and neither are people. There is a need to be cognizant of bad things in research, but also to be aware of its tremendous benefits.

CS: What challenges do you see ahead for medical research in general? Any ethical challenges in particular?
BG: I think we should be looking at that which does not fit into our paradigm. Coming down the pike, there are things that we do not know how to approach. I see big data, healthcare system research, QA/QI research, and research on the edge among these challenges.

CS: What advice do you have for young professionals interested in pursuing a career in research, research ethics, and/or a related field?
BG: This is a communal experience, and you must work with other colleagues. You also have to love what you do. You have to wake up in the morning and want to go to work. Success and productivity come from liking what you do.

CS: Why did you agree to serve on PRIM&R’s Board of Directors?
BG: PRIM&R stands for the things that I feel are important in life. The opportunity to serve this organization is such an honor. I’m excited to be given the opportunity to shape the field as well as serve an organization that I really respect.

CS: What advice have you found most helpful in your career?
BG: My father told me once, “Never attribute to malice what you can just as easily attribute to stupidity.” We must help people think the right way and help researchers who are pursuing good, quality research protect their subjects.

Thank you for sharing your story, Bruce. We are so thankful for all of your contributions to PRIM&R and to the field.
The complete 2015 Board of Directors roster is available on our website.