Feb. 19, 2019

Social work trailblazer wins significant awards for her research into adolescents with chronic conditions

PhD student Brooke Allemang receives Alberta Innovates SPOR Graduate Studentship and Mathison Centre Graduate Trainee Support Award

Author

Kloie Picot and Don McSwiney, Faculty of Social Work

Social Work PhD student Brooke Allemang is the first Faculty of Social Work PhD student to be awarded prestigious Alberta Innovates SPOR Graduate Studentship and Mathison Centre Graduate Trainee Support Award.

Brooke Allemang is the first Faculty of Social Work PhD student to be awarded these achievements.

Kloie Picot, Faculty of Social Work

A five-minute chat with Brooke Allemang works better than a double-shot of espresso. Her energy and enthusiasm is contagious, especially when discussing her research. You can forgive the Faculty of Social Work PhD candidate for a little extra exuberance these days because she recently found out that she is the first Faculty of Social Work PhD student to win a prestigious Alberta Innovates Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research Graduate Studentship, as well as the first social work student to be awarded the Mathison Centre Graduate Trainee Support Award.

“I was just so overwhelmed and overjoyed really. It’s such an honour to receive awards like these,” says Allemang, with maybe just a hint of disbelief in her voice. “I think the most important thing is that I'm so passionate about the research that I'm doing, and the fact that I've gotten these awards really validates that others see the potential and the impact of what I’m doing.” 

Helping adolescents with chronic illness and mental health concerns transition to adulthood

Allemang’s patient-oriented research is focused on adolescents and young adults with chronic conditions, such as sickle cell disease, with mental health concerns as they make the transition into adult care. Her interest in this area began at the Hospital for Sick Children and University Health Network in Toronto where she was hired as the first-ever Transition Navigator helping youth with chronic disease navigate from the family-centred paediatric system to more patient-centred, adult-care services. During her four years in the position she learned first-hand about the unique needs of that population, as well as their vulnerabilities.

“Although we do a pretty good job at helping youth transition from the paediatric health-care system for their chronic illness, there are often unaddressed mental health concerns going on, which can result in a lot of issues. Things like prolonged hospital stays, diminished capacity for self-management and a worsening of their condition,” explains Allemang.

“I think we need to do a better job treating them in a holistic way, understanding what matters to them, what their goals are, and helping ensure they don't fall between the cracks when they transition to adult services, because that can lead to really poor health outcomes.” 

Wealth of clinical and research experience

Allemang eventually came to the University of Calgary to pursue this research area as a PhD student under Faculty of Social Work professor Dr. Gina Dimitropoulos, PhD, who also supervised her Master of Social Work degree at the University of Toronto. Dimitropoulos says Allemang’s wealth of clinical and research experience have really prepared her to do great work as PhD student.

“Brooke is an outstanding doctoral student who is well deserving of these prestigious awards,” says Dimitropoulos. “Her proposed research project will fill an important gap in our understanding of youth with chronic health and mental health conditions and also develop and evaluate interventions to support youth with chronic health and mental health conditions to transfer to adulthood.”  

Research hopes to inform national best-practice guidelines

Allemang says the practical goals of her PhD research are to inform national best practice guidelines to support youth with both chronic health and mental health conditions as they transition into adulthood. 

“The goal in this,” says Allemang, "is to talk with adolescents and young adults with chronic health and mental health conditions to discover how these diagnoses interact with one another as well as the barriers they face when exiting paediatric services. This will allow us to design developmentally appropriate programs and services that will help keep them engaged, meet their health and mental health needs and help them to live better lives.”