2016 Ontario Women’s Health Scholars: Bios

Read about the research of the 2016 Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Awards who are working to improve the health of women.

Postdoctoral Awards

Ontario Women's Health Scholars Post-Doctoral recipient Alisa GrigorovichAlisa Grigorovich, University of Toronto

Alisa Grigorovich begins as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto in September. She is currently a Senior Research Associate at AGE-WELL NCE – a national research network in technology and aging at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network. For her postdoctoral research, Alisa will investigate female workers’ experiences and responses to sexual harassment from clients in Ontario residential long-term care facilities. These experiences have been linked to job dissatisfaction and burn-out, absence due to sickness, disruption of their working tasks, and poor quality of care. In particular, she will look into the complexities of developing appropriate sexual harassment policies in residential long-term care settings, where clients are older adults with significant cognitive impairments. Alisa hopes her research will inform the creation of more effective sexual harassment policies, guidelines and professional curricula.

Ontario Women's Health Scholars Post-Doctoral recipient Jocelyn WesselsJocelyn Wessels, McMaster University

Jocelyn Wessels has been a Postdoctoral Fellow in the McMaster Immunology Research Centre at McMaster University since August 2015. Her research – the first of its kind – focuses on the effects of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone on vaginal health, and how hormones affect a woman’s risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV. There are an estimated 75,500 Canadians living with HIV, and women are at a higher risk of infection than men. Recent studies found women using an injectable progestin contraceptive -Depo-Provera – have twice the risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV than women who are not taking hormonal contraceptives. Jocelyn’s research will investigate how Depo-Provera affects the bacteria that live in the vaginal tract which protect against infections, and whether these changes are making women more susceptible to HIV.

Doctoral Awards

Ontario Women's Health Scholars Doctoral recipient Lori ChambersLori Chambers, McMaster University

Lori Chambers is a PhD student in the School of Social Work at McMaster University. Her doctoral research explores the experiences of African immigrant women living with HIV who also work in the field of HIV in Ontario. Her study – “Because She Cares” – examines why these women choose work related to HIV and the challenges they face. She incorporates poetry and prose to illustrate how African women narrate and make meaning of their work as formal and informal practices of self, familial, community, social and transnational care. Lori hopes her research will inform policy and practices related to HIV and episodic illness, employment, and immigrant health, and contribute to culturally-responsive, arts-informed research.

Ontario Women's Health Scholars Doctoral recipient Sara King-DowlingSara King-Dowling, McMaster University

Sara King-Dowling is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University. Her research focuses on Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD), a disorder characterized by problems with motor co-ordination. With girls receiving less encouragement to pursue sports and having lower rates of concurrent disorders such as ADHD, girls with DCD may be less likely to be identified than male peers and have less confidence in their ability to participate in physical activity. As part of the Co-ordination and Activity Tracking in Children (CATCH) study, Sara will look at the motor co-ordination, physical activity, fitness and health of young children with and without DCD to see how the development of girls’ motor skills affects their overall health and activity levels over time as compared to boys. Sara’s research has the potential to inform early intervention strategies that will help keep girls with developmental disorders involved in physical activity and reduce their risk of becoming overweight and unfit as they grow older.

Ontario Women's Health Scholars Doctoral recipient Komal ShaikhKomal Shaikh, York University

Komal Shaikh is a PhD student in the Clinical Neuropsychology program at York University. Her research focuses on cancer-related cognitive dysfunction – cognitive difficulties, such as memory loss and lower attention span, experienced by some patients after cancer treatment. These cognitive difficulties are disproportionately felt in those cancers which mainly affect women, such as breast cancer and gynecologic cancers. Due to cognitive decline, women with these cognitive impairments often report difficulties returning to work and maintaining their relationships, which affect them economically, emotionally and interpersonally. Women with these difficulties also often report a lack of compassion from the medical community and a desire to have their cognitive symptoms validated. Komal’s research will look at the effect of education-based therapy for cancer survivors with cognitive dysfunction to help treat and rehabilitate them. In a group setting, female participants with cognitive disorders following cancer treatment will learn more about the causes as well as cognitive and relaxation strategies to help manage the long-term effects of cancer treatment. Komal’s proposed intervention is the first group program combining rehabilitation techniques, strategies, homework and exercises with stress training for this condition.

Ontario Women's Health Scholars Doctoral recipient Amanda TimmersAmanda D. Timmers, Queen’s University

Amanda Timmers is a PhD candidate in the clinical psychology program at Queen’s University.  Her research looks at variations between, and within, genders in sexual response. The aim is to develop gender-specific models of sexual arousal that will inform treatments of sexual dysfunction. It is estimated that more than one third of women suffer from at least one sexual problem – desire and arousal ranking highest when it comes to women’s primary sexual complaints. Yet traditional models of sexual arousal and desire used to inform treatments for female sexual dysfunction have been largely based on data describing men’s sexuality, despite emerging research that has found important gender differences in men and women’s sexual arousal patterns. Factors that are important determinants for men’s sexual responses have generally not been found to clearly correspond to women’s sexual arousal patterns. Amanda’s research aims to understand gender differences in sexual response and develop gender-specific models that identify important factors that determine women’s sexual response processes across the menstrual cycle.

Doctoral Awards – Renewals

Ontario Women's Health Scholars Doctoral Award Renewal recipient Kelly CoonsKelly Coons, Laurentian University

Kelly Coons is a doctoral candidate in the School of Rural and Northern Health at Laurentian University. Her research focuses on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), an umbrella term used to describe a range of effects associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol. Current Canadian research suggests health care professionals are not adequately prepared to care for pregnant women who use or are dependent on alcohol.. Additional research findings show that health care professionals lack knowledge in areas such as FASD identification, long-term outcomes of prenatal exposure to alcohol, diagnostic criteria, and alcohol-use screening tools. Because health care professionals play a key role in the prevention of FASD through their guidance on alcohol use during pregnancy, Kelly hopes her research findings will improve future health care professionals’ confidence, perceived competence and knowledge of FASD and their ability to appropriately counsel pregnant women about drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Master’s Awards

Justin Michael, Western UniversityOntario Women's Health Scholars Master's Award recipient Justin Michael

Justin Michael is a Master’s student in biomedical engineering at Western University. His research looks at developing alternative radiation-based treatment options for women with breast cancer who live far from treatment facilities. Early stage breast cancer is often treated by surgically removing the tumor and then administering X-ray radiation through frequent visits over a six to seven week time period to the affected breast. For women who live far from treatment facilities, the frequency of visits and length of the treatment may cause them to choose a mastectomy even if this treatment option is not their first choice. Justin’s research aims to develop tools for an alternative, single-visit radiation treatment that implants radioactive “seeds” directly into the breast. He intends to develop an imaging system using ultrasound to provide 3D image guidance during the surgery to ensure reliable seed placement. Justin hopes his research will make this relatively new, single-visit procedure available for wide-spread use, and increase access to care, especially in rural areas.

Ontario Women's Health Scholars Master's Award recipient Shira YufeShira Yufe, York University

Shira Yufe is a Master’s student in the Clinical Psychology program at York University. Her research will examine healthy lifestyle and weight management interventions for breast cancer survivors — a rapidly growing group in Canada. Breast cancer survivors who are overweight or obese are shown to have a lower quality of life and an increased risk of cancer recurrence. Shira’s research will examine the factors influencing women’s participation in a healthy lifestyle and weight management program at the Odette Cancer Centre at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Through interviews with the participants, Shira will investigate why some women are – or are not – successful in adopting healthier habits following breast cancer treatment. She hopes this research will inform the design and delivery of similar programs offered to women at Canadian breast cancer support facilities.

Ontario Women's Health Scholars Master's Award recipient Denise JaworskyDenise Jaworsky, University of Toronto

Denise Jaworsky is a medical resident who is currently pursuing a Master’s in Clinical Epidemiology and Health Care Research at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the way in which living in rural and Northern areas of Canada affects the ability of women living with HIV to access care. Factors such as stigma associated with living with HIV and experiences of violence, along with difficulties in arranging travel to health facilities, affect women’s ability to access high-quality HIV care and treatment. Denise’s research will use data from the Canadian HIV Women’s Sexual & Reproductive Health Cohort Study (CHIWOS) and interviews with community members, including Indigenous community partners, to compare the health outcomes of women living with HIV in rural and northern parts of Ontario and British Columbia with those living in the non-rural and southern regions. Jaworsky hopes her research will identify gaps in care and help guide health interventions that are targeted to the additional needs of women living with HIV in rural and Northern Canada.