Article: How to Prepare for the CPIA Exam

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How to Prepare for the CPIA Exam -  Interview with a CPIA

Rob Anderson CPIA

Recently Rob Anderson, CPIA, Director of the IACUC and IBC at the University of Cincinnati, spoke with a PRIM&R staff member about his experience taking the first CPIA exam that was administered last October. Mr. Anderson offers valuable tips and advice to those who are considering pursuing the CPIA credential.

PRIM&R Staff (PS): Why did you decide to take the CPIA exam?
Robert Anderson (RA): I’ve been pushing for a credential like this for several years now. I believe that it promotes the professionalism of IACUC administrators. The IACUC management field is similar to the IRB management field in that, IACUC professionals have been considered administrative secretaries for many years. This impression is not consistent with the level of work that most IACUC professionals are doing. They need to know the regulations and how to interpret those regulations which requires a lot of research and hard work. IACUC administrators deserve greater recognition for this high level of expertise.

PS: Did you think that it would help you to advance in your job?
RA: Yes, I do. I have already seen a couple of job advertisements that mention CPIA as one of preferred qualifications. Right out of the gate, that first cohort of test takers has a competitive advantage for career advancement.

PS: What does your employer think of the new CPIA credential?
RA: It was my idea to take the exam, but my boss was very supportive of my decision to pursue the credential. We work in a culture that encourages certification. In fact, some colleagues and I are working on an incentive program that will encourage staff to pursue certifications such as the CPIA or CIP. Achieving these certifications will have a direct impact on salaries.

PS: Do you or your colleagues have an interest in hiring staff who possess the CPIA credential?
RA:  We may very well state in future job postings that eligibility for and willingness to take the CPIA exam are preferred qualifications for certain positions.

PS: I think that PRIM&R members may be interested to learn how you prepared for the test. How long before the test examination date did you start to study?
RA: About three months.

PS: What materials did you use to study?
RA:  Well, I used the CPIA Handbook which includes a list of reference materials and I printed out all of the resources that were immediately accessible on the internet. I already had a copy of the Guide, the Animal Welfare Act and the PHS Policy.

PS: How much time did you take to study?
 I studied a couple of hours a week.

PS: How did you decide which areas of content to study?
RA: I used the Handbook, but I tried to focus on those areas with which I was least familiar – the regulatory areas that I do not work in every day such as VA and DOD. I really focused on those regulations and procedures that are different from what I do at my institution. I also tried to review the most relevant materials. For example, the AWAR is hundreds of pages long, but the content that is most relevant to running an IACUC is only about 30 or 40 pages long. By focusing my study I was more efficient and could absorb the information more easily.

PS: There has been some commentary about the CPIA exam which was critical of the inclusion of questions related to COC and VA regulations. What is your view on the scope of the exam questions?
RA: Well, in my own experience, I have found that having knowledge of these areas is helpful to various collaborations that my institution has with DOD or VA facilities. Just in the last six months there have been maybe four instances where having general knowledge of DOD and VA IACUC requirements was useful in connection with projects where funding sources include these agencies. Collaborative research relevant to the defense industry is an expanding area, and knowing the terminology and how to access the specific regulatory requirements is increasingly important. Even if you do not have work in these areas now, you could in the future.

PS:  Did you talk to other people who were planning on taking the test or work with a study group?
RA: No. But I did consult with colleagues who worked at other institutions in areas that I was unfamiliar with, such as VA matters.  Another strategy I used was to monitor the CompMed listserv and IACUC forum. That is a good way of knowing what the hot issues are, and can be useful for testing your knowledge of some of the more basic questions that might be posted by less experienced IACUC administrators.

PS: Given that the CPIA exam has only been administered once, PRIM&R is interested in hearing feedback from the first group of test takers about the quality of the exam. Did you believe it was a fair test?  Did it test the right content areas for an IACUC professional?
RA: Yes, I think it was a fair test. I am sure that as the test matures some questions may be discarded, and that it will improve, but for a first effort it was very balanced and well rounded. While there may have been questions on areas that you are unfamiliar with, there were not so many that you would fail the test if you were not able to answer them so long as you did well on the sections that you are familiar with. I do not feel that any particular content areas were over emphasized and thought that there was a reasonable distribution of questions related to regulatory interpretation and best practices.

PS:  Do you have any suggestions for improvements to the CPIA program?
RA: I would like to see improved access to some of the study materials. Also, I thought a few of the questions were written a bit ambiguously.

PS:  Would you encourage your colleagues to take the test?
RA: Yes. Our incentive program will be one way in which we do that. Also I believe that people will be self motivated to take the test because it adds credibility to you and to the field.

PS:  What additional advice might you offer to people who planning to take the test.
RA: One thing I would mention is that if you are a person who might feel uncomfortable taking a test on a computer, LaserGrade (the company that provides the testing software) offers a practice test on the internet that allows you to become familiar with the testing process. This is very helpful to reducing test anxiety. 

The key thing for preparing for the exam is not to assume that what you do at your institution is what you need to know for exam. You need to study the regulations and understand that different institutions have varying procedures for how to comply with the requirements. I would also add that there are benefits from going to the effort of studying for the exam. You will learn a lot and may develop better ways for running your own programs and improving regulatory compliance. This can have a real value added effect on your animal welfare program.

Thank you Rob for these insightful comments.