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Why I’m a Health Scientist: Shahirose Sadrudin  Premji

Why I’m a Health Scientist: Shahirose Sadrudin  Premji

Dr. Shahirose Sadrudin Premji is driven to make a difference in peoples’ lives. In Why I’m a Health Scientist, the researcher and Sally Smith Chair in the School of Nursing opens up about what inspires her, her dream collaborator from the 7th Century, and what impact she hopes to have on global maternal and newborn health.

If I had to describe my research to a stranger, I would tell them… that one in three people before and up to one year after delivery will experience mental health problems – most commonly depression and anxiety. While there are many reasons for this, my work aims to understand the social, cultural, and biological context of the mental health conditions and their impact on the pregnant person’s health and that of their baby.

One thing my parents always told me is… to acquire knowledge as it is a gift that must be shared to make a difference in the lives of people. Knowledge and a commitment to learning to understand and serve humanity, particularly those who are most marginalized, is rooted in my upbringing as an Ismaili.

My research has the potential to…. help guide a personalized approach to mental health care that considers each pregnant persons’ unique context. My research is based in countries where women are exposed to some of the most extreme psychosocial stresses worldwide. This group – and immigrant women from these countries – are underrepresented in research literature, which is predominantly from high-income countries.

If I could collaborate with any great scientific mind from throughout human history, it would be… the first nurse in the East (Islamic history), Rufayda Bint Saad Al Aslamiyya – better known as Rufayda al-Aslamiyyah – from the 7th Century (during the time period of the Battle of Badr with the Prophet Muhammed). She considered the underlying social problems of disease and worked as a social worker. Like Florence Nightingale in the West, she is a founder of modern nursing in the East.

Research has the power to …. engage people (parents, families, researchers, clinicians, policy-decision makers) from low- and middle-income countries as equal partners to create new knowledge and apply it in innovative ways that can be transformative. Traditionally, health scientists have tended to apply research from high-income countries to low- and middle-income countries, which can create paradoxical or unintended negative consequences as the contexts are so different. Our findings suggest that the socio-cultural conditions change the impact of mental health conditions during pregnancy, and they also affect the outcome. For example, pregnancy-related anxiety become a stronger predictor of preterm birth for Pakistani women who had an unplanned pregnancy.

The most misunderstood thing about my work is… people generally think about depression and automatically associate this as occurring after delivery (i.e., postpartum period). However, depression occurs during pregnancy as well and, if untreated, increases the risk of postpartum depression, wellbeing during pregnancy, pregnancy outcome, and infant health. The literature suggests that anxiety is more common than depression during pregnancy and up to one year after delivery. Anxiety, more so than depression, has been associated with preterm birth.

Why I’m a Health Scientist is an ongoing series exploring our researchers' personalities, motivations, and inspirations.

Dr. Shahirose Sadrudin  Premji: At a Glance


  • Internationally renowned researcher with over 130 publications
  • Has been awarded over $8 million in funding from organizations such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
  • Currently serves as the leader of the Maternal-infant Global Health Team (MiGHT) Collaborators in Research, a global, interdisciplinary group of researchers, clinicians, and policy decision makers from across three continents (North America, Africa, and Asia).  


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