Distinguished Researcher Award: Ardith Doorenbos, College of Nursing

A woman stands in front of a UIC Nursing banner
Ardith Doorenbos. (Photo: Martin Hernandez/UIC)

In her clinical work as a palliative care nurse, Ardith Doorenbos is very familiar with the toll pain can take on a person. 

“If you have pain, you’re not going to sleep well. You have a higher risk of depression and anxiety. You’re going to be more grouchy and maybe you snap at your family and loved ones,” she said. “Pain is one of those symptoms that really impacts everything related to a person’s well-being.” 

This understanding has fueled Doorenbos’ research on pain management, particularly the use of complementary and integrative methods such as acupuncture, meditation and yoga. Doorenbos, the Harriet H. Werley Endowed Chair for Nursing Research, studies whether these practices can be done along with or instead of more traditional pharmacological treatments.  

Doorenbos has applied this approach to a range of conditions, from cancer to sickle cell disease to kidney disease. Across all the diseases and conditions she’s studied, she said, there’s been a big-picture lesson: “We can do a lot without drugs.” As the opioid epidemic has become better understood, she said, her patients are more open to alternatives to prescription painkillers. In fact, some specifically say they want to try something other than opiates. 

“As a clinician, I love having more options in my toolbox that I can go to that are effective and that don’t have side effects,” Doorenbos said. For patients, knowing that they can access pain relief like meditation or yoga anytime without a prescription helps them regain some control over their lives.  

Doorenbos, who is a member of the University of Illinois Cancer Center, has published more than 250 peer-reviewed papers on pain management and is working with five major grants from the National Institutes of Health. She generally teams up on research projects with an expert in a particular disease or condition, and she credits UIC as an institution that encourages and facilitates interdisciplinary collaborations. 

Seeing the impact her research can have on patients is the most rewarding part of her work, Doorenbos said. She’s had patients go from “a place where they’re curled up on the sofa, not able to make plans because two or three days a week, they’re in so much pain, to being able to engage with life again,” she said. “If I can help patients have a better quality of life, I call that a really great day.” 

Read about other recipients of the 2023 Researcher, Scholar and Inventor of the Year awards this week on UIC today, with new profiles posted each day. On April 22, you’ll find coverage on UIC today from the awards ceremony. 

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