Professional Certification Q&A

Professional Certification: Does it Improve Your Research Program?

As published in PRIM&R's Member Newsletter in May 2008

PRIM&R sponsors two certification programs, Certified IRB Professional (CIP®) program and Certified Professional IACUC Administrator (CPIA®) program. The CIP program was launched in 1999, while the CPIA program held its first exam just last October. As the CIP program becomes a well-known and sought after credential for IRB professionals, and the CPIA program starts to grow, PRIM&R staff has been speaking with members about the value of professional certification.

In response to these inquiries, Keren Patricia Dimah from Northwestern University commented:

Our Human Subjects Protection Program (Northwestern University) has gone from having two CIPs to nine in a period of three years. We are expecting two more later this year. We accomplished this goal through extensive mentoring of our staff, such as holding weekly discussions on federal regulations governing human subjects research at staff meetings, led by our Executive Director. Also, individuals who had already attained their certification volunteered to privately tutor those preparing to take the examination.

Having several CIPs in our program has made a great difference in terms of enabling our staff to provide regulatory guidance to our IRB members as well as the research community at large. Additionally, our staff members have reported that simply preparing for the examination helped enhance their knowledge of the federal regulations as well as build their confidence. Moreover, we have implemented a career ladder system whereby certification is required for senior management positions as well as those desiring promotions.

Read more about how the CIP credential has changed the Human Subjects Protection Program at Northwestern University.

Read about the importance of the CPIA credential from two of the program's founders.

How the CIP Credential Changed the Human Subjects Protection Program at Northwestern University

PRIM&R Staff (PS) wanted to learn a bit more about Northwestern's commitment to increasing the number of CIPs in its human subjects protection program, so we asked Ms. Dimah (KD) a few follow up questions.

PS: Why do you think the number of CIPs in your office has grown so significantly?

KD: The growth in the number of CIPs in our office stems from the need to have a more professional human subject protection program. Achieving certification is one way that our office has been able to document our employees’ mastery of federal regulations governing human subjects research. Also, a strong desire on the part of our employees to achieve professional growth continues to play a significant role in how many are willing to prepare for and take the examination.

PS: How might you explain why the weekly meetings on regulations might contribute to this growth?

KD: Weekly meetings created an opportunity for less experienced staff members to learn from those who have made their mark in the profession. During these weekly meetings, the Executive Director actually read through the regulations (one word at a time) and we spent time debating what the writers were thinking when these documents were drafted. This interactive environment gave us an opportunity to clarify misconceptions as well as build on what we knew.

PS: Do you think that the larger number of CIPs has improved your program?

KD: The large number of CIPs has enhanced the respectability of our program. Our office can now truly boast of having a large number of employees that are knowledgeable in regulations governing human subjects research. Increasing the number of certified IRB staff has enhanced our ability to offer regulatory guidance to the IRBs as well as the research community.

PS: When filling positions for your human research protections program, does your organization prefer candidates who have the CIP credential?

KD: We prefer candidates who either have the certification or are willing to obtain the credential within the six months after the individual has been hired.

PS: Do CIPs receive higher compensation?

KD: Ultimately, individuals who achieve certification also have a strong desire to succeed in the profession, thus, it is reasonable to say that they do tend to earn more.

PS: Do you anticipate additional efforts to increase the number of CIPs in your office?

KD: Definitely, I currently know of three employees that are planning to take the exam in the next cycle…fall 2008.

This is the kind of feedback we hope to receive a few years down the road for the CPIA program. The CPIA exam has been administered twice: in October 2007, and more recently, this past April. We are very excited to report that we now have a total of 90 professionals who have earned the CPIA credential! Please visit our website to see the list of PRIM&R members who have achieved their CIP or CPIA credentials.

Importance of the CPIA Credential

Interest in the credential is growing. Recently a member of the CPIA Council saw a job posting that indicated a preference for candidates who have earned or are willing to obtain the CPIA credential. To learn more about the impetus for initiating such a program and about the importance of this new credential, PRIM&R staff contacted two of the program founders, Mary Jo Shepherd, DVM, CPIA, formerly the Senior IACUC Advisor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Kim Mickey, CPIA, IACUC director at Yale University.

PRIM&R Staff (PS): Why did you think it was important to create a credential like CPIA?

Mary Jo (MJ): The operation of IACUC’s has come an incredibly long way since the 80’s and it was “time” for this credential. The credential recognizes an individual’s knowledge and expertise in the field. A certified administrator will make important contributions to improving and maintaining high quality animal care and use programs.

Kim Mickey (KM): Administrators are often the only constant element of the IACUC program. Chairs come and go, as do IACUC members. IOs (Institutional Officials) typically don’t have the time to dedicate to understanding regulatory burdens placed on institutions and researchers. The administrators are the ones keeping up with the regulations, and finding creative ways to implement them. I believe that the IACUC administrator position should be viewed as an integral part of the animal program. Certification will help give that position the professional recognition that many of my colleagues still strive for.

PS: Do you encourage the staff in your office to take the exam? If so, why?

MJ: Yes! Why not? Just studying for the exam increases knowledge, performance and pride in the job!

KM: Yes.

PS: Do you have anyone in your office who has obtained the credential?

MJ: No, no yet. But it will happen soon, and I can see a time when salary increases or expanded responsibilities could serve as incentives for obtaining the CPIA credential.

KM: Yes, two administrators in my office took the exam.

PS: If so, how has that experience impacted the performance of that person?

KM: I have seen these individuals demonstrate a much greater ability to find regulation-based answers to questions posed by PIs. Having put in a lot of time reading and going through all the regulations for the exam has also increased the professional confidence of these staff.

PS: Are people who take the exam better prepared to take on new or additional responsibilities?

KM: Yes. The staff in my office who took the exam will receive promotions, salary increases and new responsibilities. Their certification helped to justify the reorganization of the office. We are also requiring the ability to become certified for our new administrator positions.

PS: Do you provide any activities or opportunities in your office that might assist staff in preparing for the exam?

MJ: Well, we encourage staff to attend PRIM&R webinars and other educational meetings and seminars, but time limitations are often a hindrance to additional educational activities.

KM: We offered a flexible work schedule to allow the staff who were preparing for the exam some time to study.

PS: Do you have any advice for people who are thinking of taking the CPIA exam?

KM: One piece of advice that I would offer to anyone taking the CPIA exam would be to read through each question and understand exactly what it is asking before answering.

If you have questions about PRIM&R's certification programs, please contact PRIM&R staff at 617.423.4112. If you would like to send us your certification story, please contact Maeve Luthin. We would love to hear from you!