Take 10 with... Katie Groom

Associate Professor Katie Groom explains how she strives to improve care for mothers and babies and why clinical research is critical to this.

1. Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

Clinical trials to improve mothers’ and babies’ health.

2. Now describe it in everyday terms!

During much of my clinical work as an obstetrician I cannot be absolutely 100% sure in the care that I provide for women and their babies, so when I have uncertainty about the right thing to do, I think, how could we do this better? How do we answer the question and then how do we set up a clinical trial to try and find out the answer?

3. What are some of the day-to-day research activities you carry out?

I spend a lot of my time thinking about the bigger picture, thinking about where we're going, writing grants and putting teams together. But what I really enjoy in the day to day is talking to people about the research and trying to engage them to participate.

3. What do you enjoy most about your research?

Talking to women about the potential research they may be interested in joining and inviting them to participate.

4. Tell us something that has surprised or amused you in the course of your research.

We recently asked women why they get involved in research, or what it is that appeals to them, and it surprised me in a pleasing way to hear that the main reason they do it because they want to help other women in the future. It’s not just about them and their babies. It’s a way of paying it forward I guess.

5. How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

I like to think I'm quite a resilient person - when I get knocked down I try to be quick to get back up again. I think the biggest challenge is getting clinicians to understand the importance of research - not as an add-on but as part of their everyday practice. I always say to them “I'm not going to go away, I’m going to keep on knocking at the door”. I think every time I talk with them, the door doesn't close quite so much, and ultimately we will get people seeing it as part of standard care.

6. What questions have emerged as a result?

In a couple of the trials that I’ve been involved with we’ve found that an intervention doesn’t work, and not only does it not work, it might potentially cause harm. It’s good to know this so we don’t expose women to unnecessary or unsafe treatments. It also opens up other questions on what the right intervention might be. It's an iterative process of answering one question, and whatever the result is, moving onto the next question.

7. What impact is your research having or what impact do you hope it will have?

Each intervention has an impact. For example, I hope that the trial we’re running at the moment – the C*STEROID Trial -  has an impact on safely reducing newborn respiratory morbidity and keeping term babies out of the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). In the case of interventions that don’t work, or that have the opposite effect, the impact is to stop using a treatment that might be causing harm or that has costs involved. It's not always about finding the best new treatment or drug - sometimes it's about making sure that what we're doing is safe and effective.

I like to think that overall I'll have a bigger impact in terms of clinical research becoming part of normal pregnancy care, normal hospital care, and something that we integrate it into our practice. I hope that the culture change that we're trying to create through the nationwide ON TRACK Network* ultimately has the biggest impact, which is that people think it's normal to part of clinical trial and that clinicians think it's part of their practice to invite people to be part of it. Active participation in clinical trials research by individuals, groups of clinicians and hospitals will lead to better care and health outcomes for mothers and babies.

*The ON TRACK Network is a mothers’ and babies’ clinical trials network for all of New Zealand. The focus is on clinical trials and large observational studies that run across multiple sites. The goal is to make sure that everyone in New Zealand has the chance to participate in clinical trials research, and to benefit from it. It is about prioritising the right research, running the right trials, and then putting the findings into practice across the whole country.

8. If you collaborate across the University, or outside the University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

I collaborate widely and that's one of the delights of working with the ON TRACK Network. Our aim is to have people engaged at every single DHB (district health board) across New Zealand, so we’ve got site network leaders in 18 of the 20 DHBs, which is a huge number of clinical collaborators. I also collaborate internationally: we've run other trials in Australia, we've had collaborations in the Netherlands, and we’re part of a wider network looking at combining trial results across Canada, the Netherlands and the UK. My main collaborators are maternal and perinatal health researchers and working with others is a huge part of my role.

10. What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

Not to sweat the small stuff. I've learned that things that used to seem incredibly important aren't necessarily so when you look at the bigger picture. Sometimes you need to sit back and think what the big picture is before rushing in and making changes.