Victoria Gudzak’s research and volunteer work aim to improve health care experiences and institutions
Through Victoria Gudzak’s Master of Science (MSc) in Pharmaceutical Science degree at U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, she led research to help children advocate for their health care needs and also led advocacy work to improve equity, diversity and inclusion in the Faculty – both of which became her “passion projects.”
“In our research, we teach kids that they should be unapologetic for advocating for what they want in their health care experience, and we provide them with a tool to help them do that,” says Gudzak. “But learning to speak up for yourself extends beyond health care for children. When you’re not afraid to advocate for yourself, you can make progressive change and help make health systems and institutions better.”
“I liked the idea of advocating for children through science, and for shifting medicine and pharmacology toward more patient-centred approaches.”
After studying life sciences and economics at Queen’s University in Kingston, Gudzak initially wanted to study pharmacoepidemiology or pharmacoeconomics. But after learning about Professor Anna Taddio’s research on CARD (Comfort, Ask, Relax, Distract), a knowledge translation system that gives children evidence-based strategies to manage their fear of needles, Gudzak decided to switch her focus and pursue research geared to improving health care experiences for children.
“I really connected with the pediatric and clinical aspects of the work,” says Gudzak. “I liked the idea of advocating for children through science, and for shifting medicine and pharmacology toward more patient-centred approaches.”
CARD had previously been piloted in schools in Niagara Region, but the outcomes hadn’t been examined under “real world” conditions, So in September 2019, Gudzak started her Master’s project, leading a randomized cluster trial of 40 schools in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph region to examine the effectiveness of CARD on reducing fainting, pain, dizziness and fear in a school-based setting. She was able to collect the data in the fall of 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, then analyzed the data while working remotely.
Her research showed that CARD had a clinically relevant effect on improving the vaccination experience in children. Schools where CARD was implemented had no fainting incidents, and lower rates of children experiencing fear and pain.
Throughout and after her degree, Gudzak also had opportunities to work on a number of projects related to CARD, including a study on implementing CARD for COVID-19 vaccinations in various mass vaccination settings.
“My graduate degree has given me the amazing opportunity to be able to work on so many different projects,” she says. “Being able to write other protocols and practice other methodologies has helped me progress as a researcher.”
Gudzak took lead role in student advocacy group
At the same time as Gudzak was conducting her research, she was also taking a lead role in advocating for equity, diversity and inclusion at the at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. In May 2020, she co-founded Pharmaceutical Sciences for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (PSEDI), a student-led initiative to advocate for enhancing EDI initiatives within the Faculty.
“I want us as BIPOC individuals to be able to talk about our science and for people to realize that everyone has the capability to create high-quality work.”
Gudzak says that at times the work was emotionally challenging, but she is proud of the results that the group achieved. In particular, she is excited that the group has received three years of funding from the Faculty to host four seminars per year featuring researchers who are Black, Indigenous or a Person of Colour (BIPOC) to speak about their scientific work.
“They will be speaking about their actual research, not necessarily their identity, and that was very important to us,” says Gudzak. “I want us as BIPOC individuals to be able to talk about our science and for people to realize that everyone has the capability to create high-quality work.”
Gudzak defended her thesis in November 2021 but has maintained strong connections with the Faculty. In March, she began a full-time role at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre as a Clinical Study and Regulatory Specialist, where she helps facilitate drug trials for oncology patients, and she continues to work on CARD research with Taddio.
“CARD research has become my passion project. These threads of advocacy and centering patients in health care are important to me,” she say. “I’m excited to continue that work and see where it takes us.”
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