Research in the time of COVID-19: Q&A with Dr. Shira Goldenberg

Nov 12, 2020 | News

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed how we all live and work. It’s also changed how we do science. At Providence Health Care, our research community has been faced with shuttered labs and offices, financial uncertainty, and a rapid shift to virtual research environments.

In this Q&A series, we’re asking PHC researchers and research staff to reflect on their experience over the past few months and share how they’re adapting to the new world we live in.

Who are you?

Dr. Shira Goldenberg, Director of Research Education at the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity (CGSHE) and Assistant Professor in Global Health at Simon Fraser University

How has COVID-19 impacted your professional life?

Our research is focused on the health care needs and health inequities faced by marginalized populations, including immigrant women and men, and women sex workers. We have been hearing that marginalized and racialized groups such as immigrants and sex workers are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and its associated public health measures. Our team’s work has been deeply motivated by the urgent need for research evidence to explore these inequities and equip health policymakers and community with information to support evidence-based decision making. We have worked hard to pivot our research to address these goals amidst challenging circumstances.

How has COVID-19 impacted your personal life?

Despite being an academic researcher with a high degree of privilege (including ability to work remotely), with a young child and baby at home, this has been a very challenging time to balance competing priorities.

Nonetheless, the biggest impact this pandemic has had for me is probably the very clear way in which it has demonstrated hugely unequal impacts for marginalized, racialized, and underserved communities. This is not new to those working in the field of health equity or marginalized populations’ health – these inequities have been starkly evident across many health outcomes and issues for many years, but COVID has perhaps forced us to confront these as a society in a more visceral way. I am hopeful that these confrontations will result in greater prioritization of equity considerations in future policy and decision-making.

As research activity gradually resumes, what does the “new normal” look like for you?

Our team has been fortunate to have been granted the opportunity for limited in-person research under approved safety protocols over the past few months, which allowed us to successfully pivot our research to address COVID-related concerns in our ongoing community-based research projects with marginalized women. This was crucial, as we found very quickly that despite our best efforts, remote research remains fundamentally inaccessible to many of society’s most marginalized and underserved communities. For example, many people do not have access to a phone or internet connection, or may not have a private or confidential space in their living situation within which they could complete a research visit. Additionally, our research involves a clinical visit, and required this in-person contact to ensure our ability to fully address our research objectives. Our staff and participants have been amazing in terms of adjusting to these processes. Their dedication and passion for this work and for ensuring that it meaningfully and safely accessible for some of society’s most marginalized women has been incredible.

Has the pandemic resulted in any unexpected benefits for you?

This pandemic has pushed us to develop and pilot new approaches to our research in order to remotely collect data and engage with our participants and community remotely to the extent possible. Some of the strategies we’ve successfully used to engage with research participants during the pandemic include using new technological approaches such as phone or video interviews, which we had not previously relied on within community-based research, which traditionally relies heavily on in-person interactions. We have also rolled out innovative knowledge translation approaches, including multilingual, community-oriented videos to rapidly share research findings with community members in a remote format.

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