By Greg Basky for SHRF
Donna Goodridge worked as a nurse in palliative care in Winnipeg for 13 years before completing her PhD and moving to Saskatchewan to start what has been a prolific, impactful career in health research. Over the last 18 years, Goodridge – now a professor in the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine, Division of Respirology – has secured 29 grants as principal investigator, totalling over $1.3 million in funding, and served as a co-investigator on over 40 grants. In that same period, she has published more than 100 papers in academic journals.
Goodridge received a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, in recognition of her research on quality of care for people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). In 2016 a paper she wrote on advance care planning was awarded an International Award for Excellence by the International Journal of Aging and Society. And that same year, SHRF recognized her contributions with a Health Research Excellence Award.
Donna Goodridge [University of Saskatchewan]
Image: Debra Marshall
Given her clinical background, it isn’t surprising that a big focus of Goodridge’s research has been on improving care for people with advanced chronic illnesses. “Respirology ended up being a really good fit because there are a number of respiratory diseases that do end up being progressive, such as COPD, and interstitial lung disease,” says Goodridge, an early recipient of a SHRF Establishment Grant. She has always viewed research as another mechanism for improving care for patients – different from one-on-one clinical care – but no less important.
Looking back now Goodridge says that, as a new researcher coming into a new academic environment, receiving her establishment grant from SHRF in 2005 was “absolutely pivotal” in her career. “Getting that grant set me up to get a New Investigator Award (2008) from CIHR,” says Goodridge. “Without it, it would’ve taken a very long time to be able to hire research assistants, get equipment and supplies, make connections, to have the travel time to go all over the province. It really helped get me established within the province.”
Paying it forward
Throughout her research career, Goodridge has worked to pay forward the support she received early on, to help set up new researchers for success in their own careers. She served as co-supervisor on Janine Brown’s (pictured below) doctoral project, around medical assistance in dying. Now an associate dean and associate professor in the University of Regina’s Faculty of Nursing, Brown says Goodridge helped her develop the technical skills required to succeed in research – how to take a wicked, complex problem and turn it into a research question that’s answerable, how to select appropriate methods for gathering your data, how to translate your findings into information that serves the needs of policymakers, practitioners, and the public.
But more than that, she says, Goodridge helped her learn valuable life lessons. “Academia is tough,” says Brown, who is also the recipient of a SHRF Establishment Grant. “It can chew you up and spit you out.
So how do you build resilience? How do you build self-compassion? How do you separate the critique of the project from the person? It’s those pieces that Donna supported my growth in that have helped make me a good and compassionate researcher…and will help me foster the next generation of good, compassionate researchers.”
Janine Brown [University of Regina]
Josh Lawson (pictured below), a professor in the Department of Medicine, first had the opportunity to work with Goodridge starting in 2005, when she invited him to join her project to help analyze administrative data on health service use by older adults with lung cancer and COPD – new territory for Lawson, whose focus at the time was on pediatric epidemiology.
“From my experience as a student and then coming in as junior faculty, she was really great at bringing me on to different projects and having me take part,” says Lawson. “Those opportunities may not seem like a lot, but for new faculty they’re incredibly important because they open you up to opportunities with other researchers in a field, to new ideas, to new methodologies.” Through these opportunities, for example, Lawson gained a better understanding of qualitative research methodologies, as well as insights into different areas of research.
“I’ve been able to expand beyond my area of asthma and learn about other respiratory diseases, or other populations, such as older adults.” He is grateful for the opportunities he’s had to work alongside her, and observe how she works with different communities and organizations. “Watching how she navigates at different levels,
Josh Lawson [University of Saskatchewan) Image: Debra Marshall whether it’s non-governmental organizations or health care settings, to the committees we sit on together, to students, to other researchers, to patients…it’s pretty amazing.” Goodridge, says Lawson, was always a great model of good research practice and professionalism.
Projects related to long Covid, opioid misuse among most meaningful
For Goodridge, a handful of projects from her extensive CV stand out. With funding support through the Post COVID-19 Condition Research Network, she and colleagues are tracking close to 900 Saskatchewan people living with long COVID symptoms. They hope to establish a registry with the information gathered with their survey. “We don’t know what’s going to happen 30 years from now. If they were infected when they were 18, and they have persistent symptoms, are they going to get better? Are they going to stay the same, or get worse? There’s so much we don’t know.”
Another team she’s involved with recently wrapped up a study looking at the experiences of people who misuse opioids when they seek care in hospital emergency departments. It’s been a difficult, heartbreaking project. “They’re a very difficult population to gather data from. So it involved reaching out to them on their own terms, and meeting them where they’re at.”
Goodridge is excited to be part of a project looking at dyspnea in long COVID, which is being supported by SHRF and Lung Saskatchewan. Patients will receive copies of the results of the different tests they undergo as part of the study – including valuable information such as scores on depression and anxiety questionnaires – which they can take back to their primary care provider. “Maybe they need some follow up on their pulmonary function test or exercise test. We’re not diagnosing, we’re just saying these are some things you might want to talk to your doctor about. It’s a nice way to give back to study participants, because so many times, they give something – say blood – for a research project and then never find out the results.”
Patients are her North Star
Over the past five years, Lung Saskatchewan – along with SHRF – has funded a number of Goodridge’s projects related to respiratory health. Erin Kuan, president and CEO of Lung Saskatchewan, says her organization appreciates that Goodridge is putting the patient front and centre in all of this work. “She always has the patient perspective as her North Star. That’s what makes her an exceptional researcher and healthcare practitioner, and relatable to so many of the communities that Lung Saskatchewan serves.”
Much of what she’s done in the area of sleep apnea through the Respiratory Research Centre, and also with COVID-19, is because she’s heard the express need of people with lived experience. One project is focused on women in rural communities with sleep apnea. “That is an overlooked demographic, but one that is certainly no less important,” says Kuan. “She (Donna) recognizes that there are either supports that need to be offered to people with the condition or more knowledge translation that needs to be done in order to raise the profile of the disease and the needs of patients.”
A great example of this is a new partnership Lung Saskatchewan recently struck with Saskatchewan Blue Cross. Blue Cross is providing financial support to the organization, to develop digital resources for people experiencing long COVID aimed at helping them manage their symptoms and have a better quality of life. “This came to us because of Donna’s ability to identify a gap in service in the province,” says Trent Litzenberger, Lung Saskatchewan’s Vice President of Research and Education. “It just speaks to her ability to look at who’s underserved and why…and that came from her listening to the perspective of patients and caregivers.”
Donna Goodridge, Britney Duncan, Joshua Lawson, Jocelyn Blouin [University of Saskatchewan]
Image: Debra Marshall
Goodridge says being able to hire grad students was a huge help when she was starting out as a new researcher. And it continues to be an important way for her to build capacity – and compassion – in the next generation of researchers or clinicians. Last summer, she had five medical students working with her on a qualitative research project that involved analyzing some 300 pages of transcripts from interviews with patients living with symptoms of long COVID.
“It was a really profound experience for all of us…I’m hopeful that those kinds of experiences, those research experiences, will inform the clinical practice of those students going forward, so they’re able to see patients in a different light. And maybe when they read a research article that talks about patients, they will know that there are faces behind all those numbers.”