Karen Aroian, Ph.D., the Chatlos Foundation Endowed Chair in Nursing, is concerned with the health of minorities and of immigrants as they resettle into new homelands, including Spain, Israel and the United States.
Her major work, which was supported by a $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, has been with Arab immigrant mothers and their adolescent children.
She was the principal investigator in this five-year study into how the mothers’ stress and adjustment affects her relationship with her adolescent children and, in turn, how that is related to adolescent behavior problems.
The study of 634 mothers and children yielded a rich trove of data that followed the families through early to late adolescence. “The findings identified a vicious cycle between child behavior problems and the mother-child relationship: a poor mother-child relationship leads to the child’s behavior problems but a child with behavior problems is more difficult to parent. Clearly, interventions with adolescents with behavior problems need to focus on both the mother and the child to improve the relationship between them,” she said.
A subsequent study was about the discrimination experienced by Muslim-American adolescents. She conducted that research in collaboration with the UCF Institute of Simulation and Training.
“What I found was that much of their discrimination occurs in school at the hands of their teachers,” she said. “I found some pretty horrific examples.”
Aroian was an endowed professor at Wayne State University when she was recruited for the Chatlos chair in the UCF College of Nursing in 2008. The endowment provides her money to conduct pilot studies and teach fewer classes, giving her the data and the time to prepare competitive proposals for major grants.
“It’s incredibly helpful in tight financial times,” she said.
Her research findings have provided information for clinicians and health providers to improve immigrant and minority health. “NIH is looking for studies with a strong impact on health,” she said. “As the nation’s second-largest university, it’s important that we have a strong presence, leading change with impactful studies.”
Aroian currently is working with Dr. Jason Lang at Nemours Children’s Hospital to examine how cultural and health beliefs guide families’ management of a childhood chronic illness. She is looking specifically at the Puerto Rican population, which has a high incidence of childhood asthma.
Aroian was one of 19 nurse researchers worldwide inducted last year into Sigma Theta Tau International’s Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame—further demonstrating the reach and impact her research is having in the world of health and health care.