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Tips and Tricks when Applying to a Research Ethics Board (REB)

When collecting data for a resident (research) project involving human beings, an ethics review from a recognized Research Ethics Board (REB) is required.

This application requires a proposal with a brief background, methods and data analysis  section. In addition, the REB is particularly interested in the consent process regarding research participants. It is paramount that research participants are volunteers, who are fully aware to what they consenting.

The Tri-Council—Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), Social Science and Humanities (SSHRC) and National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)—has developed a joint research ethics policy. See the entire policy [PDF - 610 KB].

The Tri-Council states:

REBs shall consider whether information is identifiable or non-identifiable. Information is identifiable if it, alone or when combined with other available information, may reasonably be expected to identify an individual. The term “personal information” generally denotes identifiable information about an individual.

However, there are some exceptions. The Tri-Council states:

Research that relies exclusively on publicly available information does not require an REB review when: (a) the information is legally accessible to the public and appropriately protected by law; or (b) the information is publicly accessible and there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Chart reviews, or chart audits, also require REB approval when the resident is planning to discuss the results publicly (Resident Project Day). If a Chart audit is only used to improve the practice, no REB approval is required.

A REB application adds time to the resident project; however, the work for the REB will be used for the final project.

Many resident projects are considered “minimally invasive” and they may qualify for an “expedited review.” An expedited review usually takes between three to four weeks, while a full review may take up to two months.

After REB approval has been obtained, no changes to the research instruments or recruitment strategy can be made. If that is required, the REB needs to be informed.

Each family medicine resident who requires REB approval needs to obtain it in the province, or hospital, of their residency (Dalhousie University recognizes the REB certificate from Horizon Health Network (HHN) for New Brunswick residents and vice versa).

Here are some links for REB websites in various provinces that residents can access for a specific REB application information and forms (each institute has a different process).

New Brunswick

Nova Scotia

Prince Edward Island

Please consult with your resident project site coordinator regarding the need for an REB application and how to go about it.