Vanier scholar analyzes the factors that impact immigrant/refugee women's health and employment

Growing up in India, Bharati Sethi found great power in education. It motivated her to find answers to scientific questions that were on her mind.

"I was always thinking about 'evidence' – questions such as 'how things worked?', 'what made people do what they did?', 'why were some people healthy and others suffering with disease?'," she says.

Through her father's encouragement, Bharati followed these interests and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree at Mumbai University. In the mid-1990s, she came to Canada in hopes of starting a career. But she quickly found out that her degree held no weight. So for 10 years, she worked as both a waitress and a bartender in order to save money and move towards a new career in social work.

Bharati's educational motivation had to do with her experiences as a foreign worker in Canada. Between work permits, and until she established residence in Ontario, she couldn't get access to universal health care. She noticed that other immigrants suffered similar problems – if not worse.

"That is when I decided that someday when I obtained my landed papers, I will go back to school, get my PhD and do something health-related," she says.

Bharati obtained her BA (psychology) in 2007, her Master of Social Work in 2009 and her PhD in 2014 at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her community-based graduate research focused on health issues faced by refugees and immigrants in Canada.

Recently, a Vanier scholarship helped her complete a study regarding immigrant/refugee women in Canada who are from Korea, Asia, Africa, Japan, Arab world and Latin America. Using photovoice, 20 participants gave Bharati photographs, diaries and in-depth interviews that explained how their immigrant status, current location, finances, race, sexuality, and age had an impact on their health and employment in Grand Eerie, ON.

Bharati hopes to use photovoice in other studies, because it simplifies the English language barrier that may exist for participants. She also hopes that research results from her work will lead to policies that reduce health care inequity. She encourages other researchers to follow their scientific dreams.

"Even in difficult times," she says, "continue to persevere towards your research goal. You may see the positive outcomes that come with it."

Bharati started her postdoctoral work at McMaster University in fall 2014.

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