Student profile: Caring for caregivers to improve health outcomes for chronically ill children

Tara Azimi focuses her PhD research on enhanced support for caregivers managing their children’s type 1 diabetes.

Hersharon Sandhu - 17 May 2021

Tara Azimi developed an interest in chronic conditions during her time as an undergraduate student in health sciences at Simon Fraser University. Now pursuing a PhD in public health, her focus is on maternal caregiving experiences and support needs when caring for a child with type 1 diabetes (T1D)

“While completing my clinical work for my master’s degree in counselling psychology, I recognized the research gap when working with families with chronically ill children, particularly caregiving for children with T1D in Canada. Combined with firsthand knowledge of my aunt’s experiences with managing my cousin's T1D, I wanted to fill an understudied area of research in Canada,” shared Azimi.

Canada ranks sixth amongst the top ten countries with the highest rates of diabetes in children under the age of 15. “Type 1 diabetes is an incurable, life threatening chronic condition with complications that lead to practical and emotional problems for patients and their families,” shared Azimi. “Management of T1D lies primarily with mothers, who report caregiving and decision-making as being intensive, stressful and never-ending, with daily strains leading to depression, anxiety and even PTSD.  Enhanced support for mothers translates to better caregiving, diabetes management and health outcomes in their affected children. Therefore, maintaining the health and well-being of mothers as caregivers is critical given the reliance on family caregivers as the backbone of care.”

Approaching and analyzing chronic disease management and resources from a public health perspective has helped Azimi get the skills, training and knowledge to research, plan and propose holistic programs. “For me, public health is about empowering and encouraging people to take an active role in their health. But with that said, it is also about ensuring accessibility of health services, evaluating public health policies and systems, and advocating for health equity and equality,” said Azimi.

Discussing the value of a public health background when trying to assess the needs of people caregiving for T1D children, Azimi stressed that “understanding the unique experiences and needs of mothers caring for T1D children is necessary for planning, improving, and advocating for services for this population.”

Azimi reflected on her graduate student experience, especially with the transition to online learning in 2020. “If there is one thing I’ve learned it is the importance of being flexible and taking it one day at a time. Setbacks are also part of success.” 

Azimi was recognized for her research excellence with a WCHRI Graduate Studentship and the Charles WB Gravett Memorial Scholarship last year.

As she looks forward to the future, Azimi is considering doing a post doctorate after completing her PhD. “In terms of a career, ideally, I’d like to establish a private practice as a psychologist part time while also working part time in academia as a researcher and instructor.”

She expressed gratitude when discussing her success. “My supervisors, Stephanie Montesanti and Jeff Johnson, have supported me, challenged me, and given me the skills and capacity to carry out my research. I’m grateful for their continued mentorship and encouragement and for ensuring that my graduate experience has been enriched with opportunities. Without them, I would not be where I am as a trainee. I also have immense gratitude to my committee members and peers for their guidance and encouragement.”


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