Article: There Is a Tremendous Sense of Empowerment: Personal and Professional Impacts of Certification

Michelle Aparicio, BS, CPIA
Manager, IACUC & IBC, Research Compliance
North Shore-LIJ Health System

Q: How did you become involved with IACUC work?
A: When I was working as an executive assistant to the CEO and COO of my research organization, our institutional official recognized the need for an administrator for the IACUC and animal research program. She felt that my skill set, and background would complement the needs of the program. Upon her recommendation, I accepted the role.

Q: At what point did you realize that you wanted to advance in the field?
As soon as I assumed the role as IACUC administrator, I realized that having a background in business, management, and economics prepared me to a degree, but that I needed to learn more about program administration/operations and regulatory compliance.

Q: How did you learn of the CPIA® credential?
Our consulting veterinarian at the time had just heard about the CPIA credential and encouraged me to pursue it. The timing was perfect and I was grateful for an opportunity to enhance my understanding of IACUC administration and its part within our preclinical research program. 

Q: Did anyone in particular encourage you to become certified?
Yes, our consulting veterinarian and institutional official. I am very fortunate to work for an organization that is incredibly supportive and that promotes a culture dedicated to excellence, innovation, teamwork, and continuous change. By participating in learning opportunities, I am able to better support the North Shore-LIJ Health System's strategic and business goals. 

Q: Why did you become certified?

A: I became certified because I knew that it would strengthen my understanding of my role, the value of my position, and my responsibilities. By becoming certified, I became more confident and self-assured in my role. It demonstrated to my organization’s leadership that IACUC administration and the animal care and use program was a valuable tool in supporting their mission, and that I was committed to do my part. 

Q: How did you prepare for the exam? How far out did you begin to study?
I began months in advance but quickly became overwhelmed by trying to memorize all the material. It was more challenging learning how other types of programs are required to administer IACUCs (e.g. VA, DOD, etc.), so I reached out to peers at those types of organizations. I also focused on regulations and procedures that are different from what I do at my institution. There is a lot of material to review in preparation for the exam, but it helped to focus on the content as it pertains to administering an IACUC and animal research program. 

Q: In looking back, were there any particular study methods that were particularly effective? Do you wish you had prepared differently?
I found the best way to prepare was to talk to individuals who were experienced in IACUC administration. That was more effective for me than just reading the enormous amount of reference material. I would also recommend that you give yourself plenty of time to review all the resources. It helps to focus on understanding the material, rather than memorizing it. Regulations can be intimidating, but there is a tremendous sense of empowerment when you have a solid understanding of them, as well as how to interpret and apply them to your programs.

Q: What piece of advice do you wish to pass along to others who are contemplating certification?
Network, network, network! Talk to your colleagues who understand your job best. Talk to the experts who have been doing this for years. At one of the first PRIM&R IACUC Conferences I attended, I immediately connected with a seasoned IACUC professional, Molly Greene, who I continue to call upon. She has been a tremendous source of knowledge and support. 

Q: Do you have any observations about how the CPIA credential has impacted the field of IACUC administration?
I feel like, albeit slowly, the CPIA credential has impacted the field by recognizing IACUC administration as an important, professional position. The impact stills seems strongest within the research enterprise arena. Preclinical research and IACUC program administration is instrumental to advances in science. Solid, ethical preclinical discoveries are an integral pathway to human trials. Advancing science to prevent disease and cure patients is the ultimate mission. The CPIA credential raises the profile of IACUC administration and increases awareness that preclinical research activities are conducted not only in accordance with regulations, but by knowledgeable experts. I am grateful to PRIM&R for bringing this to the forefront and establishing the CPIA credential.