UF Health receives national fellowship award to improve psychological care for children with diabetes

Dr. Sarah Westen, postdoctoral fellow, PHHP department of clinical and health psychology
Dr. Sarah Westen, postdoctoral fellow, PHHP department of clinical and health psychology

Psychological support is crucial for helping children with Type 1 diabetes and their families manage the disease, yet there are few child psychologists with expertise in the unique aspects of coping with and managing the illness.

To address this need, JDRF, a global nonprofit organization, has granted the University of Florida one of five National Fellowship in Psychology Program awards for 2018-2019. Selected JDRF Fellows will receive specialized, multidisciplinary training to enhance research and clinical skills in pediatric psychology with an emphasis on Type 1 diabetes. They will have the opportunity to work with renowned researchers and clinicians in diabetes psychology through didactic and hands-on training experiences and exposure to new technological advances in diabetes care.

Sarah Westen, Ph.D., a 2017 graduate of the clinical psychology doctoral program in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of clinical and health psychology, was selected as UF Health’s JDRF fellow. Her primary mentors are David Janicke, Ph.D., a professor of clinical and health psychology; Brian Olsen, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medical psychology in the department of psychiatry at the UF College of Medicine; Desmond Schatz, M.D., a professor of endocrinology in the College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics; and Michael Haller, M.D., an associate professor of endocrinology in the College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics.

“Unfortunately, many families are not able to access psychosocial services, especially within the context of diabetes management,” Janicke said. “This prestigious fellowship allows us to improve access to psychosocial care that is often critical to facilitating improved disease management and adjustment to this challenging chronic illness.”

Other organizations receiving this year’s JDRF National Fellowship in Psychology Program awards include Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Children’s National Medical Center, Oregon Health & Science University and Stanford University.

“This fellowship means a great deal to me personally and professionally,” Westen said. “I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes myself at age 14; and since then, JDRF has been an inspirational source of hope. I am excited to join the world’s top researchers in Type 1 diabetes as a JDRF Fellow. Given this is the inaugural year of the fellowship, I hope to lead a path for future scientists to see the value of psychology in both research and clinical care for Type 1 diabetes.”

Westen will work with her mentors and faculty and staff in the UF College of Medicine’s division of pediatric endocrinology and the UF Diabetes Institute to improve patients’ health behaviors and general mental health as they relate to diabetes management. She is interested in several biopsychosocial aspects of Type 1 diabetes in children, young adults and families, including quality of life, treatment adherence, coping, family management, transition from pediatric to adult care and the treatment of other mental health and behavioral conditions. Westen will see patients in the UF Psychology Clinic and the multidisciplinary UF Pediatric Endocrinology Diabetes Clinic. She will also teach and supervise undergraduate students, psychology doctoral students and psychology interns and residents in diabetes research, therapy and consultation-liaison work.

“Sarah is very driven and dedicated to helping children and families with Type 1 diabetes,” Janicke said.  “She conveys great empathy, which helps her connect, but she also challenges her patients and effectively works with them to problem solve and improve their disease self-management and coping. She is a creative and committed scientist who is not afraid to challenge and push herself as she progresses in her research.”

As part of her fellowship, Westen will conduct a research study to examine relationships between objectively-measured sleep parameters, adherence to treatment and blood glucose regulation, along with psychological variables, such as diabetes-related distress and fear of hypoglycemia. The study is supported by funding from the American Psychological Association Division 54 Drotar-Crawford Postdoctoral Research Grant in Pediatric Psychology.

“The impact of sleep on glycemic control is understudied in children with Type 1 diabetes; yet, sleep is a modifiable factor for many children,” Westen said. “Learning about the connections between sleep and diabetes management may help us develop future interventions to improve patients’ quality of life.”

Westen will also conduct a JDRF-funded study aimed at examining facilitators and barriers to clinical trial participation in children and young adults living with Type 1 diabetes and their families.

(Originally published by the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions here. Article by Jill Pease, Public Relations Director, College of Public Health and Health Professions.)