School of Nursing

February 14, 2023

Nursing Our Hearts

The human heart has been on my mind lately. When our hearts are heavy or burdened with stress, we feel those effects physically. Yet, when we are moving, nourishing, and caring for ourselves, we often feel the joy and uplift in mood that comes from that as well. There is a wondrous relationship between caring for our physical hearts and caring for our emotional well-being. Of course, as a dean of a nursing school, this also brings to the forefront the nurses in our community that help us care for both our physical and emotional hearts.

February is, by presidential proclamation, National Heart Month. In addition to committing to a heart healthy effort by watching your diet and getting more exercise, this is a good time to think about the ways in which nursing plays a role in heart health.

Walk into almost any cardiac rehab facility, and you will find a nurse in charge of making sure everyone is staying within their limits. School of Nursing researchers are contributing to the knowledge we have about the cardiovascular system. Our continuing education programs include professional webinars such as “Advancing Cardiovascular Care Using Digital Technology.” And many of our clinical faculty focus on aspects of cardiovascular health such as heart failure. Others in our school have dedicated their lives and research to the work of mental health and the nursing of our inner hearts. Nursing students every day are learning from their contributions and teaching, becoming deft experts in administering care for those who live with the trauma, stress, and injury that are often invisible to the rest of us.

Through their research, teaching, and public education efforts, School of Nursing faculty are continually contributing to a national and international effort that has had remarkable results in recent decades. Faculty like Jonathan Auld research focuses on the interaction between heart failure symptom biology, patient behaviors, and patient outcomes. Elizabeth Bridges’ current research is related to en route critical care and the integration of cardiovascular monitoring into the care of critically ill/injured. Cindy Dougherty’s sustained program of research has focused on the development of knowledge related to human responses to sudden cardiac arrest and cardiac arrhythmias, both for survivors and their family members.

We are proud to have outstanding faculty dedicated to this research and committed to graduating new students every year with knowledge of heart health, research, and prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the age-adjusted heart disease death rate decreased from 182.8 per 100,000 in 2009 to 170.5 in 2012, and then decreased at a slower rate to 161.5 in 2019.

Much has changed in cardiac care, particularly in terms of prevention and treatment. Statin medications have been successful in reducing high cholesterol levels that contribute to cardiovascular disease. Cardiology has remarkable new technology for imaging the heart and monitoring its electrical function. Worn heart valves can now often be replaced without open heart surgery.

The focus is on keeping patients well. Yet even today, almost 700,000 people a year in the U.S. die of cardiovascular disease. Men die of heart disease at twice the rate of women.

National Heart Month is a good time to think about what you can do to promote your own heart health, and that of those close to you. Heredity plays a role in cardiovascular disease, but exercise and diet are something you can control, along with blood pressure and stress. In caring for your physical heart, do not neglect your emotional heart. Developing your mental health, mindfulness, and social emotional well-being is not only good for the soul, but is also a cardiovascular health strategy! Laugh, meditate, spend time with friends and family, take time for things you enjoy. Make and savor moments in nature. Ensure you are staying in tune with your own wants, needs, heartaches, and joys.

Finally, an action you can take right away to be heart smart is by preparing to help someone else in the event they have a cardiac arrest or myocardial infarction (heart attack). Someone’s life might someday depend on you having taken a CPR class, or knowing how to identify and use the automated external defibrillators (AEDs) that are available in many public venues.