South African Journal of Bioethics and Law

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Things may not be as Expected: Surprising Findings when Updating Workload at the Wits Human Research Ethics Committee (Medical)

P Cleaton-Jones, ES Grossman


Objectives: To compare numbers of applications to the University of the Witwatersrand Human Research Ethics Committee (Medical) for clearance by the full committee during 2011 - 2013; to see the proportion of clinical Master’s applications in 2013 and to look for the influence of eight variables in applications reviewed from January to June 2013.

Methods: A retrospective extraction of data from committee minutes (2011-2013) and application forms (January – June 2013) was done. Statistical analysis was completed using SAS for Windows (version 9.4). Variables examined were committee decision, choice of research method, supervision or not, supervisors’ research degree, supervisors’ publication group, university administrative entity, registered degree and month of approval after first review.

Results: Total numbers were 685 (2011), 845 (2012, a 23.4% increase from 2011) and 769 (2013, a 9.0% decrease on the previous year). In 2013, 22% of applications were for clinical Master’s degrees required by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) for specialist registration. A number of cross-tabulations of variables are presented. Logistic regression analysis (Proc Catmod) showed that three variables significantly influenced the committee’s initial review decision, namely school (p=0.03), applicants’ registered degree (p=0.01) and the research method chosen (p=0.03). The month of committee approval was also significantly affected by school (p=0.002). Preferred researchmethodologies for supervised and independent research applications differed within and between schools.

Conclusion: A predicted continuous increase in number of applications from 2011 to 2013 did not happen for unknown reasons. Research method, school, and registered degree significantly influenced the committee’s decision at the initial review of applications. For clinical Masters, and other Masters, a supervisor’s degree had no effect on the committee’s decision at the initial review of applications; however undergraduate and honours applicants having supervisors without a research degree had more than double the approval rate at first review than when supervisors had either a Doctorate or a Master’s (p=0.008). Supervisors’ possession of a research degree did not increase approval rate of applications nor did a supervisor’s publication grouping.
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