Leading by example

Headshot of Danna Paulson on a School of Dentistry branded background

Danna Paulson, MSDH, RDH, CCRP, researcher for the School of Dentistry, isn’t your typical study coordinator. And that is precisely what leads her to excel in the role.

Paulson started her career focused on clinical practice, working as a dental hygienist in Canada and the Caribbean. She loved dental hygiene, but felt pulled to do more, to keep growing. 

“I have always been a curious person who likes to learn, and after working in private practice for a number of years, I was looking for a new challenge,” Paulson explained. “I wanted to explore dental hygiene beyond the clinical setting. 

Through an internship with Delta Dental of Minnesota and advanced training through the Master of Science in Dental Hygiene program at the School of Dentistry and Carlson School of Management, Paulson found her passion: research. 

“Research provides opportunities to challenge yourself, through learning and personal growth,” she explained. “I enjoy working through the methodical steps to reach an answer to an interesting and relevant research question. The hope is always that the research closes a gap in knowledge, produces innovative approaches to care or adds value to the body of knowledge within our field.” 

Today, she works as a study manager at the School of Dentistry—and is an integral part of getting research done. 

“By effectively coordinating the study and collaborating with various stakeholders, I can help to ensure that research is conducted ethically, efficiently and with the highest-quality standards, leading to more impactful research outcomes,” she said. “By using my knowledge of research methods and best practices, I can help to optimize the study design and implementation, leading to successful research projects and publications.” 

Paulson makes herself available to support faculty and students who have an interest in research, whether it’s a specific question they hope to answer or an inclination toward scientific discovery. 

In addition to her role as a study coordinator, Paulson has authored several publications—including two as a first author. Most of her research focuses on patient care. Paulson feels passionate about this kind of work because “even with the best of intentions, the patient perspective can be overlooked.”

“I think it is important to produce relevant research that is centered around the patient’s perspective in a world where clinical outcomes are often prioritized,” Paulson explained. “Conducting and producing research where the patient’s perspective is highlighted informs the dental community that patient-centered care can result in improved outcomes. It’s important to consider a patient’s unique and individual situation in order to provide individualized care that addresses their distinct needs.

Paulson’s expertise and her willingness to dive into projects and support others has not escaped notice of her supervisors and others at the School of Dentistry.

“I think highly of Danna and her research,” said Mike John, DDS, PhD, MPH, associate professor in the Division of Oral Medicine, Diagnosis and Radiology. “Without her, important School of Dentistry research projects would not move forward. Not only are her administrative and organizational skills excellent, but unique for a study coordinator is her publication activity.” 

Through it all, Paulson remains humble, expressing gratitude for her colleagues and for the work she has been able to accomplish. 

“What I enjoy about being a first author is the leadership role you take on in order to complete the task,” Paulson said. “Being first author is a challenge that I enjoy, but I could not be successful at it without the support of my research team members and mentors. There are many important team member contributions made to a study prior to and during the writing of the manuscript, and all the research projects I have been involved with were team efforts.”