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Beyond Compliance: The Role of Institutional Culture in Promoting Research Integrity

Geller, Gail ScD, MHS; Boyce, Alison MA; Ford, Daniel E. MD, MPH; Sugarman, Jeremy MD, MPH, MA

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181e5f0e5
Institutional Issues
Abstract

Purpose: To contribute data to conceptual explorations of the role of institutional culture in promoting research ethics and integrity.

Method: The authors highlight relevant themes that emerged from a multimodal needs assessment conducted under the Johns Hopkins Clinical Translational Science Award regarding ethical issues encountered in the conduct of clinical and translational research. Qualitative and quantitative data were collected through a short survey targeting research staff, course evaluations from a research ethics and integrity education course attended primarily by faculty and fellows, a review of institutional policies on research ethics education, and in-depth interviews of key administrative officials.

Results: Major themes included the relative influence of regulatory compliance and relationships between research personnel at different levels of the organizational hierarchy on the responsible conduct of research. The majority of respondents (85%) expressed comfort with reporting suspected breaches in research integrity, but the others did not feel comfortable doing so for fear of professional repercussions. Respondents provided insight into factors in the research environment they felt were most helpful in fostering research integrity, particularly with respect to relationships and power differentials between individuals or groups.

Conclusions: Compliance with research regulations is only one of a number of important factors in an institution's ethical culture of research. Equally important are a clear articulation of the ethical reasoning that underlies the regulations, and efforts to redress power imbalances by encouraging open communication. Other ways of improving relationships among various members of the academic research team should be the focus of future investigations.

Author Information

Dr. Geller is professor, Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Departments of Health, Behavior and Society and Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University, and a member of the Research Ethics Achievement Program, Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, Baltimore, Maryland.

Ms. Boyce is coordinator, Research Ethics Achievement Program, Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Ford is vice dean for clinical investigation, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, professor of medicine, Departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, and director, Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Sugarman is Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of Bioethics and Medicine and deputy director for medicine, Berman Institute of Bioethics and Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, and director, Research Ethics Achievement Program, Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, Baltimore, Maryland.

Please see the end of this article for information about the authors.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Geller, Johns Hopkins University, Berman Institute of Bioethics, 624 N. Broadway, Room 350, Baltimore, MD 21205; telephone: (410) 955-7894; fax: (410) 614-9567; e-mail: ggeller@jhmi.edu.

© 2010 Association of American Medical Colleges