Working together has strengthened our relationship: An interview with Kathy Self and Jamie Gray

by Megan Frame, membership coordinator

Welcome to another installment of our featured member interviews where we 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 a mother and daughter who are both PRIM&R members: Kathy Self, administrative research coordinator at Rocky Mountain Cardiovascular Associates in Broomfield, CO, and her daughter Jamie Gray, institutional review board (IRB) coordinator at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood, CO. 

Megan Frame (MF): When and why did you both join the field?
Kathy Self (KS): My first exposure to human subjects research was in 1990 when I worked at a general clinical research center, but I became involved with IRBs in 2000. The IRB that I went to work for, Colorado Multiple IRB , had been shut down by the Food and Drug Administration and the Office for Human Research Protections in the late 1990’s and they were in a rebuilding phase. Even though I did not have any IRB experience, I was fascinated by the ethics of research, and I have been involved ever since.

Jamie Gray (JG): I first started my career working at an IRB in early 2001. My mom (Kathy) told me about an opening, and I applied because I was looking for a new challenge. At the time, my only experience with research had been volunteering in high school helping research subjects navigate our local hospital. I started as a temporary worker at the IRB and was quickly promoted through the system many times.

MF: How has having your mother/daughter in the same field affected your career?
KS: After Jamie joined the field in 2001, we worked together for almost seven years. Working with my daughter was very rewarding and it is a bond that we will always share. Since then, we have sought each other’s advice on IRB matters many times. Currently, I am a research coordinator and my daughter is my IRB coordinator! We are in touch often for study-related submissions and often “brainstorm” about new processes that can be put in place to advance our programs.

JG: Having my mother in the same field is highly rewarding. She understands the acronyms utilized in my daily life, and we can bounce ideas off of one another. We face similar issues and can point one another in the right direction. This has been absolutely invaluable to me. Currently, my mom is the research coordinator for two studies that run through the IRB I work on. Giving your mother advice and serving as the expert in a field that she trained you in is definitely a little strange, but I really enjoy the fact that we are able to work together. I think that over the years it has strengthened our relationship as mother and daughter. Additionally, we are both stronger employees due to our open attitude and willingness to hear the other side of things.

MF: What are your proudest professional achievements?
KS: When I first started at the IRB one of the things I noticed was our community members did not feel valued and were often intimidated by the scientific part of the reviews. One member told me she felt like she was a “token” member and was only invited to be there to fulfill the quorum requirements. This really distressed me. Community members are so important on an IRB; they represent the people that take part in the research. Because of this, we changed a lot of our processes to involve the community members more and make sure they felt valued. Our community members are now responsible for a separate consent review that is presented to the board. We also started having additional community members attend each meeting so that they had a larger presence. Now, our community members feel comfortable being more engaged and involved.

JG: I have so many achievements that make me proud. I have a wonderful committee who wants to do what is right. They are willing to learn new things to make the right decisions and this affects all who are involved in research at our facilities, from the research subjects we are trying so hard to protect and inform, to the investigators who are giving their best care to the subjects. I have coordinators who stop by my office to run something by me, to talk about the issues. These types of changes are what make me feel like I really can make a difference.

MF: What advice have you found most helpful in your work?
JG: Communication! I have found that communication is the road to success. If you have a question, or if you have a problem, call, tell someone, and ask for help. It’s more than likely that you are going to build a better relationship with your sponsor, investigator, and reviewing committee if you are following this principle.

KS: The mission of an IRB is to protect human subjects in research, protect the investigators, and the institution. If you do that, in that order, the mission will be accomplished.

Thank you for being part of the membership community and for sharing your story, Kathy and Jamie. We hope we see you both at the 2014 AER Conference

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a member, please visit our website today.