2007 Salary Survey Results

Good IRB professionals are hard to find

Institutions increasingly looking for advanced degrees

Experienced and educated IRB professionals are in a very good position this year to command top salaries and find jobs in a variety of research settings, according to experts and the results of the 2007 salary survey conducted by IRB Advisor.

"What's happening nationally is those institutions that value their IRBs or human subjects protections programs really hang on to their people and throw money at them," says Barbara J. LoDico, BS, CIP, director of human subjects research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA.

Based on 75 responses to the IRB Advisor's 2007 salary survey, most IRB directors and staff who responded earn more than $40,000 a year. Nearly 60% earn more than $50,000 per year, and more than half earn more than $60,000 per year. (See salary chart, below.)

"I've tried to recruit people who the minute they talk to their institution and say, 'I'll give you my notice of 60 days,' the employer says, 'Wait a minute, will this be a matter of compensation?'" LoDico says.

The salary survey also found that close to 83% of respondents received a raise in the past year, with 46.67% earning a 1-3% salary increase, and 20% earning a 4-6% salary increase.

It's very difficult to find qualified people, says John Isidor, JD, chief executive officer of Schulman Associates IRB in Cincinnati, OH. Isidor is an editorial advisory board member of IRB Advisor.

"We use a company that contacts people at other institutions and will charge some sort of placement fee," Isidor says. "We also market through our web site, and I think a fair number of people look at that."

Schulman Associates runs help wanted ads in the local newspaper, and these have a wider stretch because the newspaper places them on the Internet, he adds.

Seasoned professionals

The 2007 salary survey also noted that the IRB world is attracting older professionals. According to the survey, about 70% of survey respondents are 41 years or older, and more than half are 46 years and older. (See age chart, below.)

It's a graying business, Isidor notes.

"I think a lot of people who got into the business in the 1980s and early 1990s have stayed in it," Isidor says. "When they got into it, the IRB world was extraordinarily young, and this was particularly true in the 1980s."

While there is a core of younger people in the IRB world, the fact is that younger IRB professionals tend to be recruited to different types of jobs, Isidor says.

"We've lost a lot of our younger staff to sponsors and contract research organizations, who cherry-pick them," Isidor says.

At the same time, it's difficult to recruit people with experience, even when an IRB has a good reputation and pays competitive salaries, Isidor says.

Research-specific curricula needed

IRBs and institutions that need to recruit new IRB professionals likely would benefit from having universities create courses that focus on education for IRB staff, says Elizabeth E. Hill, RN, DNSc, a nurse planner, an assistant professor, and the director of the clinical research management program for Duke University School of Nursing in Durham, NC. Hill also is on the editorial advisory board for IRB Advisor.

"There's no school that gives you a degree in IRB administration, and it's not part of any health sciences program," LoDico says.

"I do think it would be a good idea to have some kind of education for people who run and manage IRBs," Hill adds.

"I ran an IRB in the military for five years, and the people who worked on it had no education—they learned by the seat of their pants," Hill says. "But especially now as we see more about certification and how that's becoming more important, I think these people need to have a good understanding of what is needed in a consent form, and more."

Isidor says he's never recruited new employees at colleges.

"What we try to find are people who have been study coordinators, people who have worked at clinical research organizations (CROs), or sponsors," Isidor says. "And we have a young man who has a master's degree in bioethics from Penn, and he sought us out."

Sometimes potential employees have requested to do an internship at the IRB, as well, he adds.

If Isidor did recruit college graduates, he says he'd be interested in English majors.

"I find that writing in our society is a dying art," Isidor says. "And I like people who can articulate well and listen, who can write and observe."

Also, the IRB has a number of employees with nursing backgrounds, Isidor says.

"But the truth is they don't teach anything about IRBs or human subjects research in colleges," he adds.

Advanced degrees

The 2007 salary survey shows that the IRB professionals who responded are well-educated. Only 13.51% have less than a bachelor's degree. And more than 60% of the respondents reported having completed at least some graduate work. More than 40% have earned a graduate degree.

IRB professionals are a well-educated group, despite the difficulty they face in advancing their education.

"Most of us have tried to go back and get advanced degrees," LoDico says. "But unless they have a very big staff, they have gone on, but never completed the degree."

LoDico says she personally is just two courses and a thesis away from receiving her master's degree.

Many institutions will provide tuition funding, but finding time to pursue an advanced degree is the problem, she notes.

Heavy workloads

"My average work week is 76 hours per week," LoDico says. "The range is rarely under 60 hours, and sometimes it's 80 and 90 hours—only surgeons work like this."

According to the 2007 salary survey, 56% of respondents work more than 40 hours per week and 12% work more than 50 hours per week.

IRB administrators attend many meetings and are always multitasking, LoDico notes.

The salary survey respondents reported having seen increases in their workloads, with 68.92% showing an increase and only 9.46% showing a decrease.

The 2007 salary survey found that the IRB professionals who responded mostly are employed in hospitals (51.35%), with another 39.19% employed in an academic setting.

Also, survey respondents reported having less experience in working for an IRB than their ages might otherwise suggest.

For instance, more than two-thirds of respondents have worked for an IRB for six or less years. A little more than 17% have worked for an IRB between seven and 12 years, and about 14% have worked for an IRB for 13 or more years.

People who work for IRBs often find their jobs through serendipity, Isidor notes.

They start out in some other field, become interested in research and human subjects protection, and then end up working for an IRB.

"Most people started someplace else and ended up here at an IRB because there are no certifying degrees," LoDico says.

"I don't think people at age 11 or 12, when they're asked to describe a career path, will say they are going to work for an IRB," Isidor says.