Purpose: To understand the characteristics of medical school faculty members who serve on institutional review boards (IRBs) in U.S. academic health centers.
Method: Between October 2001 and March 2002, a questionnaire was mailed to a stratified random sample of 4,694 faculty members in 121 four-year medical schools in the United States (excluding Puerto Rico). The sample was drawn from the Association of American Medical College's faculty roster database for 1999. The primary independent variable was service on an IRB. Data were analyzed using standard statistical procedures.
Results: A total of 2,989 faculty members responded (66.5%). Eleven percent of respondents reported they had served on an IRB in the three years before the study. Of these, 73% were male, 81% were white (non-Hispanic). Virtually all faculty IRB members (94%) conducted some research in the three years before the study, and, among these, 71% reported conducting clinical research, and 47% served as industrial consultants to industry. Underrepresented minority faculty members were 3.2 times more likely than white faculty members to serve on the IRB. Clinical researchers were 1.64 times more likely to be on an IRB than were faculty members who conducted nonclinical research. No significant difference was found in the average number of articles published in the three years before the study comparing IRB faculty to non-IRB faculty.
Conclusions: The faculty members who serve on IRBs tend to have research experience and knowledge that may be used to inform their IRB-related activities. However, the fact that almost half of all faculty IRB members serve as consultants to industry raises potential conflicts of interest.