February is American Heart Month, the perfect time to help others develop and practice healthy lifestyle behaviors and reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Will it change anyone’s mind? I could go the typical route, discussing the number of deaths this year and the reason for prevention. I also could discuss the ethical responsibility to get immunized. Will everyone still walk away from reading it, digging in deeper to their own beliefs instead of being open?

President of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, Jo-Ann Eastwood, PhD, RN, CNS, ACNP-BC, FAHA, FPCNA, FAAN, shared her thoughts with Nurse.com on what the PCNA is doing to support nurses, as well as people in their communities, in the quest for improved cardiac health.

Eastwood is an associate professor in Health Promotion Sciences/Acute Care Nursing at the UCLA School of Nursing. She also is a fellow of the American Heart Association’s Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing and a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.

What is your organization doing to raise awareness and educate the public about heart health and disease prevention?

PCNA’s mission is to promote nurses as leaders in cardiovascular disease prevention and management across the lifespan. We actualize this mission by providing nurses with tools and resources to educate patients and the community at-large regarding cardiovascular risk factors and how to manage them to prevent heart attack and stroke.

In addition, we partner with other organizations that have a common purpose in raising awareness about heart health and disease prevention. A key partner, Million Hearts, is a national initiative aimed at preventing a million cardiovascular events over a five-year period.

Empowering individuals at risk for or experiencing heart disease becomes a collaborative effort for PCNA and other organizations. Multiple organizations joined the Million Hearts initiative to reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease and created programs and educational materials to achieve the goal of encouraging them to quit tobacco, reduce dietary sodium and get blood pressure under control.

In addition to PCNA, programs such as the CDC’s 1-800-Quit Now, is a heavily used resource for those motivated to quit smoking. In addition to PCNA, the American Heart Association has excellent resources for nurses and patients regarding blood pressure control, sodium restriction, cholesterol and heart disease in special populations. Many systems like Kaiser have developed their own programs and educational tools to raise awareness and motivate lifestyle changes in Americans united in the fight against heart disease and stroke.

What progress have you seen in the public’s level of awareness and knowledge regarding heart health and disease prevention?

Over the past few decades heart disease and stroke mortality gradually declined. This was likely the result of improvements in how we treat heart attack and stroke but also increased awareness of heart health and disease prevention. An aging population along with rising rates of obesity and diabetes is slowing the progress we’ve made. PCNA is preparing for this challenge as we expand our resources to include tools for diabetes prevention and treatment. Through affiliations with more than 30 other professional organizations and PCNA’s alliances with international associations, such as the European Society of Cardiology and the World Heart Federation, we are extending our reach and nursing’s voice on a national and international level.

What programs do you think are beneficial to people who have heart disease? Why?

Community engagement is an important focus for any hospital system or organization. There are a multitude of programs that deliver essential services and screening events in all communities, but especially vulnerable ones. It is important that individuals become aware of their health status by learning what their numbers are, namely, blood pressure, cholesterol and hemoglobin-A1C. Awareness is a key component in self-care. Attending community wellness events can be impactful in both improving the health status of the community as well as the health outcomes for individuals.

Cardiac rehabilitation is an important treatment modality for individuals with heart disease and receives the highest level of treatment recommendation by the American Heart Association and others. Sadly, cardiac rehabilitation is underutilized for a variety of reasons including lack of awareness on the part of patients and healthcare providers. PCNA is a strong advocate for increased referrals and access to cardiac rehabilitation so that all patients can benefit from these evidenced-based, life-saving programs.

How can nurses in all specialties help those they care for address heart health as well as disease prevention?

Year after year, nurses top the Gallup poll list of most trusted professionals. Who is better to carry the message of heart health and disease prevention? Nurses are well-prepared to serve as health coaches — helping patients make positive changes in their behaviors including quitting smoking, improving their diet and incorporating activity and exercise into their daily life.

PCNA ensures nurses in all settings are equipped with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to deliver care that makes a positive impact on patient outcomes. Engaging with patients and their families to solicit their unique insight and perspective has been shown to be a fundamental tool in making care safer and more effective. Nurses on the front lines can engage not only patients, but also family members and other individuals who may be caregivers, as active participants in learning to care for themselves and their loved ones.

PCNA also collaborates with industry and uses the talents of its volunteers and membership to develop and produce a wide array of high-quality and effective tools to ensure success in nursing’s educational journey, that is, the education of the interdisciplinary team, patients, families and community members.

What outside resources can nurses use to help them when caring for those with heart disease as well as in prevention of heart disease?

PCNA has many educational resources for nurses to use with their patients. The education is written in plain language so a vast majority of patients can feel comfortable using the information and incorporating the tips into their daily life. Much of this education is available in digital format and can be found on the PCNA website.