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Being ethical in your approach as a dentist matters, correct? I am sure every dentist reading this would agree. I wanted to give my experience on the topic from the perspective of an 'expert member' on one of the Research Ethics Committees (RECs) for the West Midlands branch of the Health Research Authority (HRA).
I don't believe I am particularly more ethical than any other dentist out there, but I do believe I have additional insight into what it means to be ethical from a patient point of view and what factors should be considered. I wanted to share my experience of being a relatively new member of the ethics committee for the HRA, what it means and how it helps inform and develop my ethical practice.
I found out about RECs through a former colleague and fellow dentist. She invited me to come along to a meeting and see what it was all about. Being the inquisitive (and perhaps nosey!) person I am, I thought it would be something different, interesting and very relevant to my clinical practice. As a committee, we read health research study proposals that involve human participants and scrutinise the ethical issues associated with the studies. We are constantly looking from a patient/participant's perspective and not from a researcher's perspective. As a clinician, I find this refreshing; it helps me to focus on putting the participant's best interests first, and supports a selfless, caring and ethical approach to healthcare.
The panel is made up of around eight members, but this can vary from week to week. Members are either 'expert' (from a healthcare/science background) or lay (any member of the public). We have research proposals sent to us in advance of the monthly meetings to read and annotate with any issues, comments or concerns we may find, and then at the meeting we discuss them prior to raising them with the visiting researcher/s. We then, on deliberation after the researcher has left, come to a decision regarding whether or not to approve the research to go ahead.
It is certainly a position of trust and a position of responsibility; something I developed through my early years as a qualified dentist. My voluntary work with the research ethics committee really compliments my day job! I have also improved my team working and leadership skills as a result, and my confidence as a relatively new clinician is also improving. I am keeping healthcare research integral to my educational development, and have undertaken committee member training for the role. At each meeting I am learning more about what it means to be an ethical decision maker.
It is not something I knew anything about prior to joining, but now I feel enriched, better informed and feel my patient care is going that one step further as a result.
If you are interested you can find out more at: https://www.hra.nhs.uk/about-us/committees-and-services/res-and-recs/become-rec-member/