Million Hearts is a nationwide initiative with a goal of preventing 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Their initiative is co-led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on behalf of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Every 43 seconds someone in the US has a heart attack, and every 4 minutes an American dies from stroke. Heart disease and stroke are the first and fifth leading causes of death in the US respectively.

Aware of these alarming statistics, the University at Buffalo decided to join the Million Hearts initiative with their own goal of saving 1,000 hearts in western New York. Their decision to join the life-saving effort began with a class offered in the university’s School of Nursing, “Health Promotion and Disease Prevention with Populations.” Led by two clinical associate professors of nursing, Dianne Loomis and Loralee Sessanna teach students about underserved communities including refugees, rural communities, and pregnant teenagers, and how to improve health outcomes for these patients.

Much of the student’s work is research-based and much of the clinical experience is hospital-based, which isn’t reflective of the bigger picture of community and population health. Professors Loomis and Sessanna want their students to think beyond the hospital setting and begin to overcome the poor outcomes present in community health. To improve student’s clinical education and outreach, Loomis decided to add a service learning component to the course.

To complete their service learning requirements, University at Buffalo nursing students will conduct health screenings and evaluations at five Buffalo churches in underserved areas. Students are being given a real opportunity to promote health and overcome the barrier of limited access to healthcare in underserved populations.

Health screenings provided by the students includes checking blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and stress levels, followed by checking participants’ eligibility for Medicaid or other health insurance, and finding primary care physicians. Students also provide health education, recommending aspirin therapy based on screening results and guidance to quit smoking and reduce stress.

The initiative started by Million Hearts is an important one that could have a large effect on educating more Americans about their risk for heart disease, and bringing better access to health care to many underserved populations across the country. It’s an initiative that requires a large number of volunteers and healthcare professionals, and University at Buffalo’s School of Nursing is setting a remarkable example for other schools and healthcare professionals to get involved in helping their own communities.

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