“Research is Like a Competitive Sport”: New Senior Investigator Brings Passion for Diabetes Research

Photo of a crew team on a boat rowing into the horizon

By Leslie Bienen, CHR Writer

Photo of Natalie RitchieNatalie Ritchie, PhD, MA

Natalie Ritchie, PhD, MA, has been working in diabetes prevention for twenty years, but when she talks about it, she is as excited as when she started out. Ritchie joined the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research as a Senior Investigator in June 2024, after her two daughters finished their school year in Westminster, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. Ritchie joins CHR after thirteen years at Denver Health, an integrated healthcare system that, like Kaiser Permanente, provides its own health care plans.

Ritchie’s research has focused primarily on improving health equity in diabetes care. At Denver Health, she worked on ten grants in the past year, including three as Principal Investigator. She will bring two projects with her to CHR, both of which focus on the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP): a randomized clinical trial to assess the program’s effects on obesity and diabetes risk among women of childbearing age from underserved groups (funder: National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), and a grant to learn how to better implement the program for Medicare beneficiaries (funder: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute).

Ritchie has also researched which factors make people with prediabetes either use, or not use, the National DPP. “The National DPP focuses on translating lifestyle interventions from landmark clinical trials into real-world practice,” Ritchie said. “It’s been an incredible opportunity to explore all facets of the translation process, from making sure we are getting effective outcomes to designing insurance coverage for the program.” With her focus on improving lives and access to health prevention and promotion, Ritchie’s work was an obvious fit for CHR.

Ritchie’s research has been funded by a range of federal agencies and private foundations, and includes studies related to obesity, depression, anxiety, maternal and child health, older adults, primary care, health policy, health economics, and dissemination and implementation science.

Adapting to Change

Adapting to change has been a constant in Ritchie’s life, starting with what she describes as a turbulent childhood in California. Eventually, her family life became so disrupted that other families took her in. In high school, she did two study abroad programs, one in Paraguay and one in Australia, before attending a boarding school in Connecticut. All these experiences provided invaluable lessons in flexibility and in adapting. Ritchie attended the University of Washington as a first-generation college student and was an active member of their champion crew team. During her junior year abroad, she rowed for the University of Barcelona.

After graduating with degrees in Spanish and Psychology, Ritchie received her master’s degree and PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Illinois Chicago, focusing on health psychology. She completed her clinical training at Denver Health and her postdoctoral training in patient-centered outcomes research at Denver Health and the University of Colorado School of Medicine. It turned out that rowing was good training for a career in research. “Research is like a competitive sport,” she says now. “It requires perseverance, drive, teamwork, and self-confidence, even when you’re down. And you need to have a game plan, too.”

New Horizons

Ritchie is excited to see what lies ahead as an investigator at CHR, including exploring potential research areas such as new diabetes and weight-loss drugs, and further targeting pregnancy and maternal-child health to improve lifelong health. “One of the best parts of joining CHR is the potential synergy and alignment with CHR’s talented group of researchers,” she says. “I especially look forward to building meaningful and fun collaborations.”

Ritchie is also looking forward to conducting research within Kaiser’s larger research infrastructure. Working at CHR will offer her a wealth of new opportunities for collaboration on a wide variety of health services research. At the same time, Ritchie feels strongly about keeping up with previous partnerships at institutions across the country. Taking threads from the past and weaving them into a new future is something she’s been doing her whole life.

Ritchie, her husband, and their daughters are eager to begin exploring new opportunities in the Portland metro area. “It’s a dream to live in the Pacific Northwest,” she says. “We are looking forward to the hiking, verdant landscapes, and abundant waterfalls.” The family is starting their new chapter in Camas, Washington.

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