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Getting the people’s perspective

Meet the community members of Community Hospital’s Institutional Review Board

"Part of our role as community members involves advocating for research subjects’ rights. This means I pay attention to what they are hearing (from the researchers) and whether it makes sense."
-Greta Marlatt

Greta Marlatt

Greta Marlatt has been a librarian for 25 years, 13 of them for the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. She has no medical background and no science orientation. Yet Lynn Menashian, director of Quality Management for Community Hospital, thought she’d be a perfect addition to Community Hospital’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), which considers and approves biomedical research involving human subjects.

Nearly two years later, Marlatt agrees.

"I am thoroughly enjoying this experience," says Marlatt. "Part of our role as community members involves advocating for research subjects’ rights. This means I pay attention to what they are hearing (from the researchers) and whether it makes sense. Not having a medical background, I can safely say that if it doesn’t make sense to me it probably won’t make sense to them."

Greta Marlatt is one of four community members of the board, selected to represent the views of laypeople when deciding whether a research project should move forward.

Marlatt has always tried to be involved in the community, to make a difference. After losing her father to a heart attack, she saw the work of the IRB as an opportunity to do something that would positively affect the health of others. 

"As a librarian," she says, "I like to research things, to gain a better understanding of what’s going on, what’s available in medicine. I started college wanting to be in the medical field but discovered early on that I didn’t have the stomach for it. Through the IRB, I have found a way to be involved on a level I can handle."

Nancy Tostevin

For years, Nancy Tostevin was a lawyer specializing in medical malpractice and medical-staff credentialing. Today she is a retired lawyer, using her skills and experience as a community member of the IRB.

What Community Hospital does is of interest to her, says Tostevin. She likes to learn new things and keep abreast of what is cutting-edge. As a member of the board, she says, it is her hope and her role to act as a screen and advocate for research subjects.

The board’s job, Tostevin says, is to protect research subjects by analyzing risk-benefit studies that use experimental drugs, treatments, or devices. According to Tostevin, members don’t want to be so caught up in the technical aspects that patients are deprived of the option to participate in an experimental trial that may offer them the possibility of saving their life, increasing their life-expectancy, or enhancing their quality of life, in addition to contributing to medical knowledge. On the other hand, she continues, it is the board’s responsibility to be fully informed and careful in its decisions.

Pastor Norman Mowery

Pastor Norman Mowery, from Church of the Wayfarer in Carmel, joined the IRB because he takes great interest in patients’ rights and quality care.

Mowery says he believes his religious and spiritual orientation is a good fit for the IRB. He considers it part of his ethical duties to stand up for subjects’ rights and to ensure that consent forms are understandable.

"The board needs people like me," he says. "Because I am not trained in the medical field and am not familiar with the medical community, I know I can ask good questions as a potential patient from the general community.

"I find it an enriching experience, beyond my day-to-day work as a pastor," he adds. "It gives me a different connectedness to the community to be a part of Community Hospital’s IRB, something I truly believe in. It opens up a whole new world for me."

Rosaleen Ryan 

Rosaleen Ryan was encouraged to join the board by Debra Schulte Hacker, director of the Maurine Church Coburn School of Nursing at Monterey Peninsula College. Ryan is director of institutional research at MPC.

"I have always had an interest in medical research, and was briefly a pre-med student as an undergraduate," Ryan says. "I find the interplay between biology and the environment just fascinating."

When reviewing a protocol for research proposed to the IRB, "I always consider whether it is methodologically sound, to make sure there are no confounding variables and that outcomes are due to the intervention not the design of the study," she says. "I make sure it is readable. I also see my role as one of bridging the gap between the field under study and the community. I may understand how the study is laid out, but the potential subjects may not."