Vanita Pais named 2019 BBDC Diabetes Educator of the Year

November 28, 2019

Of all the professional honours and accolades one can receive, there’s nothing that matches the feeling of being recognized by one’s peers. For Vanita Pais, winner of the Banting & Best Diabetes Centre (BBDC) Educator of Year Award for 2019, the fact that she was secretly nominated by two of her colleagues makes the accolade extra meaningful.

A Certified Diabetes Educator and Registered Dietitian on the Diabetes Team at Sick Kids Hospital, Vanita only discovered that two of the registered nurses on her team had put her name forward when she received an email saying she had been selected as this year’s winner.

The first RD to claim the honour, Vanita says the news came as a complete surprise. “I asked my team, ‘what is this?’ and they said I was the best person who came to mind so they had applied on my behalf,” Vanita says. “These are busy people. I know it takes time to complete the application and there’s a lot involved. It means a lot to me that they would go out of their way. Because I work with them regularly, they can really see what I do for the patients. It really touches my heart that they believe what I do is more than is required of me.”

In their nomination, Vanita’s colleagues, Clinical Nurse Specialists Shaun Barrett and Denise Penny praise not only what Vanita does, but how she does it. They highlight her diligence in caring for young diabetes patients, but emphasize that her inquisitive, respectful and culturally sensitive approach makes all the difference. “She has a breadth of knowledge and skills that support her focus and determination in ensuring children, adolescents, and their families, receive care that is superior, flexible and innovative, to best fit their individual journey in competently self-managing diabetes,” Shaun and Denise wrote.

But while she’s spent the last decade and a half working with young diabetes populations, and says she finds the ability to help patients through their formative years to be particularly rewarding, she never set out to focus on pediatrics.

In India, where Vanita is originally from, she earned qualifications in nutrition and dietetics before becoming the only on-staff dietitian for an entire hospital, working with a full spectrum of patients and needs. After moving to Canada and upgrading her qualifications at Ryerson, Vanita had the opportunity to join the Diabetes team at Sick Kids, though she did not expect her role there to be as long-lasting or fulfilling as it has been.

“I look at my role at Sick Kids as being not just an educator. I see myself as a facilitator for the families and our team members to work together to get the best outcomes,” she says. Often, this means taking a truly multifaceted approach, working closely with her patients, their parents, and even grandparents and siblings to address not only nutritional needs and concerns directly relating to the patients’ diabetes, but also family dynamics and the full spectrum of considerations related to children’s normal growth and development.

But it’s more than just the attention she gives individual patients and their loved ones by which Vanita makes a difference in people’s lives. She’s dedicated to improving the delivery of care as a whole, tirelessly working both formally and informally to interrogate and improve internal processes and taking on initiatives with the goal of helping clinicians better understand various factors that impact patients’ outcomes. For example, in 2018 Vanita received another Diabetes Educator award for her work as an investigator on a study into the association between self-efficacy levels, resilience and attachment style of teen Type 1 diabetes patients and their caregivers. She’s also investigated the impact of food security on children with Type 1 diabetes, among her extensive CV of research projects.

“I try to bring the research component and a focus on quality improvement back to my team. I like to try to find QI projects that help overall with our teaching and learning. I like to look at challenging situations I might encounter as opportunities to improve care, to improve the flow of how we work,” Vanita says. “Often when you work with patients, you have an idea of how things should be but you don’t really know. These projects help us to see why this one thing does or doesn’t work, and what we need to do to improve.”

Ultimately, she says, it’s her team’s intrinsic motivation and the ability to directly see the improvements their self-critical approach delivers to patients, that are the true payoff for Vanita.

“I wake up every day and I feel I have a purpose,” she says. “I believe in this philosophy that what you give in the world comes back to you. It’s like a boomerang. How hard you throw it is how hard it comes back to you.”







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