Educator Spotlight: Dr. Donald R. Nixdorf
By Nicole Fauteux
“I used to complain that the
amount and quality of research on orofacial pain were low and poor. Then one
day my division head said, ‘Why don't you do something about it?’”
So began the journey of one
academic dentist who started as a clinical educator, became a clinical
researcher, and now works to facilitate the research of others on a national
scale. The vehicle propelling this young investigator to his current
destination: the dental practice-based research network.
Donald R. Nixdorf is Associate Professor and Director of the Advanced Education
Program in Orofacial Pain at the University
of Minnesota. In 2005, he responded to a challenge by Dr.
Eric L. Schiffman, Director of the Division of Temporomandibular Disorders and
Orofacial Pain, by attending a six-week summer research institute at
the University of Washington.
There Dr. Nixdorf learned about new research networks from Dr. Timothy A.
DeRouen, Network Chair and Principal Investigator of Northwest PRECEDENT (Practice-based REsearch Collaborative in Evidence-based DENTistry),
one of three regional forerunners of the current National Dental Practice-Based
Research Network (National
When Dr. Nixdorf shared his
excitement about the networks with his wife, a practicing dentist at Minnesota-based
HealthPartners Dental Group and Clinics, she replied, “Oh, I’m part of that.”
“The husband is always the
last to know,” Dr. Nixdorf jokes.
Optimistic about developing
a line of epidemiologic research regarding pain following common dental
procedures, Dr. Nixdorf joined the same regional network and submitted a
research proposal. Despite initial skepticism from some of his academic colleagues,
performing such research within a practice-based network seemed to make sense
and he pushed forward.
“Once I joined the network,
I started understanding all the
benefits,” says Dr. Nixdorf. “Rather than creating a separate infrastructure
for each research project, the network provides an established infrastructure
for this type of research. You can ask bigger questions, and these have the
potential to impact patient care faster and to a larger degree.”
After Dr. Nixdorf became
engaged with the network, he says the collaboration was so positive and
effective that “it started picking up steam on its own.”
He performed two more studies
in the network and used his research as the basis for a Master of Science in clinical
research. There’s no doubt in his mind that network involvement has been
pivotal in his career.
“Being able to put the
epidemiological research methods I was learning to use and figure out
immediately how to implement them was important for me,” he says. “I've been
able to get a lot more done than I thought I'd be able to this early in my
Dr. Nixdorf believes the
network can be an immense resource for other young investigators as well. The
network provides exposure to people with a wide range of expertise and can help
researchers refine their ideas. His advice to those considering getting on
“Vote with your feet and
join the National
Dental PBRN. Contact your regional director or deputy director
and start a conversation about what you’re interested in.”
If you live in the network’s
Region, that person might just be Dr. Nixdorf. He was asked to
serve as Deputy Director of the network’s Midwest Region last year. Bringing
others on board seemed like the logical next step in Dr. Nixdorf’s academic
career, so he seized the opportunity to pass along the mentoring he had
“I got into academia to
improve the profession, and serving as Deputy Director for the Midwest Region seems
like the best vehicle available to me now to do this.”
The network certainly seems
to have offered him a great ride thus far.