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“Committed to the SCD Community”: Q&A With Kemar Prussien, PhD, Diversity Fellow

Published on December 14, 2021 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 7 months ago
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Kemar V. Prussien, PhD

Kemar V. Prussien, PhD

Editor’s Note: Diversity is central to our breakthroughs at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute. With a community of scientists from unique backgrounds and academic experiences, we are able to collaborate and confront pediatric problems from a variety of perspectives. In this four-part Q&A series, we’re featuring four new scholars in the Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for Academic Diversity program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. As a key part of CHOP’s commitment to diversity, this fellowship funds talented researchers and educators from different backgrounds, races, ethnic groups, and other diverse populations. Join us as these fellows share their areas of research and interest, what diversity in science means to them, and how they spend their hard-earned downtime.

In this Q&A, meet Kemar V. Prussien, PhD, a researcher focused on identifying how to improve the transition to adult medical care in adolescents and young adults with sickle cell disease.

Please tell us about your background, and what compelled you to apply for the Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for Academic Diversity.

I was born and raised in Philadelphia and, during the summer before my senior year of high school, I completed a research internship at CHOP on a project that assessed family and school functioning in children and adolescents with sickle cell disease (SCD). Growing up with two siblings with SCD, I had a personal connection to this population; however, this experience helped shape my goals and set me on the path of dedicating myself to becoming a pediatric psychologist committed to the SCD community. After receiving my BA in psychology, summa cum laude, at Cornell University, I obtained my PhD in Clinical Science in Psychology from Vanderbilt University. I then completed my predoctoral internship in clinical pediatric psychology at CHOP.

I am currently a postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Lisa Schwartz, PhD, and Lamia Barakat, PhD. My research is focused on identifying barriers and facilitators of transition to adult medical care in adolescents and young adults (AYA) with SCD, with an emphasis on health equity. I applied for this fellowship to receive expert mentorship and multidisciplinary training at the exceptional institution where my path began.

Can you describe your area of research, and why you chose it?

SCD primarily affects individuals across the African diaspora, and the effect of racial disparities in daily life and healthcare amplifies biopsychosocial stress and impacts overall functioning. There are over 100,000 individuals living with SCD in the United States, and, although over 95 percent of children live into adulthood, the transition period between pediatric and adult medical care holds the highest rate of morbidity and mortality across the lifespan. Each year, approximately 25 percent of SCD-related deaths occur between ages 20 and 30 years, which are partially attributed to health inequities including limited access to care, pain-related stigma, and increased stress and distress.

Further, as a result of these inequities, many AYAs are not successful in transitioning to an adult hematology provider, further compounding barriers to sickle cell care. Ultimately, I chose this area of research to reduce this outcome of life-threatening health disparities by understanding and targeting psychosocial factors related to barriers and facilitators of medical transition in AYAs with SCD through both descriptive studies and intervention.

What does diversity in research and science mean to you?

I believe that the ultimate goal of research and science is to advance knowledge and improve the quality of life of all people. This goal is impossible to uphold without representative diversity in both the investigative team and the ethical methodology within diverse populations. Bringing diverse backgrounds, experiences, and expertise to a research project improves the quality and rigor of the science and enhances innovation. Further, seeing a diverse group of investigators also increases the comfort of underrepresented populations, who are often faced with disparities in participating in research, and the trust of the community in scientific findings.

Tell us about a research project(s) you’re excited about?

The first phase of my fellowship project focuses on modifying a concept model called the Social-ecological Model of AYA Readiness to Transition (SMART) to optimize its validity for AYA with SCD that incorporates relevant factors related to reducing health disparities and increasing health equity. SMART-Equity (SMART-E) will include multiple stakeholder perspectives ascertained via focus groups and interviews. The next phase will focus on adapting the Transition Readiness Inventory (TRI; originally developed for AYA survivors of childhood cancer), A clinical investigational tool based on SMART, to reflect SMART-E components using rigorous methodology outlined in the NIH’s Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS), including systematic review of existing instruments, cognitive interviews, and content validity ratings. The final phase will examine initial psychometric properties and feasibility of the TRI-SCD in a pilot study.

When you’re not working, do you have a favorite pastime or spot to relax, enjoy a meal, or be active?

I enjoy reading and listening to audiobooks. I spend a lot of time reading academic literature during work hours, so my pleasure reading is primarily limited to fiction or astronomy. I initially wanted to become an astronaut prior to learning that I was too short to pursue that dream. I also run daily, and I usually pair my runs with a “treadmill show” that I’m only allowed to watch during a workout! Most importantly, I love hanging out with my partner, family, and friends over brunch, dinner, or board games.