Always looking out for her research participants: In her work and upon her retirement, Pat Ryan kept participants as top priority

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Ryan, Pat 2

By Jolene Luther
UI HDSA COE Public Relations Assistant

As I sat down to interview Pat Ryan about her years at the UI HDSA Center of Excellence in light of her retirement, she clutched a handful of tissues in anticipation of the questions she knew would surely bring up a few tears.

The tissues came in handy as Ryan opened up about her favorite part of the job — time spent with the participants. With a smile on her face, she reminisced about the many lunches spent with participants during research visits, sharing thoughts and feelings and coming to learn “how brave and generous many of our HD participants are in their quest to make a difference.”

“It takes courage to face a future that has a lot of unknown factors,” Ryan said, “and to come to a research visit where you get asked a lot of questions that may be painful to think about.”

As Ryan affectionately reflected on her tenure here, it was clear what stood out to her most was not any specific event or goal accomplished, but the multitude of relationships she formed with both her colleagues and the PREDICT-HD participants she worked with as a study coordinator. 

In 2008, looking for a job that would allow her to get involved in research on a meaningful topic, Ryan thought the UI HDSA COE research associate job fit the bill. With a background in psychology, social work, and sociology, Ryan said she found a need to which she could contribute something worthwhile and long lasting.

Anyone who has had the privilege of working with Ryan would agree that she more than met these initial goals during her time with us. Research Associate Stephen Cross said Ryan has been “incredibly compassionate, highly conscientious about everything she was responsible for, and had a phenomenal work ethic.”

Her exemplary work was shown as the PREDICT-HD study underwent some major changes to accommodate the ever growing number of research angles from which we approach the study of HD, which meant even more tests for the participants. Amidst these changes, Ryan was ever the advocate for her participants, ensuring that the visit remained workable for them, and gracefully acting as the middle person in the triangle formed by participants, scientists and the data management team.

UI HDSA COE Co-director Dr. Jane Paulsen also noted Ryan’s compassion and the extraordinary work she has done to make the UI HDSA COE not just run smoothly, but also provide the participants with an enjoyable experience.

“Part of the reason our participants return year after year is because they enjoy the time spent with us and don’t see it as a burden,” Paulsen said, “and that is due in large part to people like Pat. It shows in the fondness her participants have for her.”

While she’s not entirely sure what the post-retirement future will hold, Ryan is looking forward to spending more time with her parents and in-laws, volunteering, and having more time to exercise — particularly, biking and her little-known hobby, playing pickleball.

Her retirement may bring about some yet undefined changes in her life, but one thing is certain: she will be dearly missed at the UI HDSA COE.

“I’m sure that Pat will be missed equally by her colleagues and participants alike. Everyone loves Pat,” said Cross.

It is the continued and extended relationship with the participants that is the hardest for Ryan to leave behind. She is saddened to have to say goodbye and to know that she won’t be present for the next chapter in their lives. She thanked all her participants for their dedication and generosity, patience and flexibility, warmth and receptivity, and for opening up and sharing their lives with her.

“I think I’m a different person because of knowing them, learning from them, and experiencing them,” Ryan said.

Photo by Owen Wade
Pat Ryan lists her favorite food as guacamole and her loves Iowa City for all the various cultural opportunities.