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Spotlight on Walden // Feb 07, 2012

A Heart to Heart with Cynthia Hickman, Lifelong Learner at Walden University

Cynthia Hickman, a PhD in Health Services student and ’09 Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) graduate, had her first “aha moment” at 16 when she saved her manager’s life while working as a lifeguard. From that moment, she turned her calling into a career. A nurse for 26 years, Cynthia is currently a cardiology case manager at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Texas.

In recognition of American Heart Month, Cynthia shared with us how she is helping to educate others about heart health. She also discussed how her Walden education has helped her make an impact in the lives of others.

As a cardiology case manager, what is your role with patients?

My role as a cardiology case manager is to assist heart failure patients with their healthcare needs. The screening of patients with heart disease begins on admission, and as their case manager, I follow them until they are discharged. I identify their needs during a screening that involves me speaking with the patient about their concerns during the hospitalization. Another primary role I have as case manager is to make recommendations to the patient’s physicians about what services the patient would benefit from once discharged.

What information do you share with patients about heart health and maintaining a healthy heart once they leave the hospital?

In addition to case manager, I also have the role of a nurse educator. Earning my MSN with a specialization in Education from Walden has prepared me for my additional role—teaching patients that there is life after a diagnosis of heart failure. Yes, there are limitations, but handling the limitations of heart failure is manageable with lifestyle changes like dietary and fluid restrictions. Additionally, I also share with my patients information about support groups and how critical it is to schedule and keep follow-up appointments.

How important is it to not only educate the patient but also the family and other caretakers?

Family and caretakers play a pivotal role when caring for a patient with heart failure. If educated, those who care for patients living with the disease do a far better job keeping the disease under control. Families and caretakers also need to understand the patient’s medication, appropriate dietary choices, the importance of sodium restrictions, and daily weights, among other changes and restrictions. Speaking from experience, the more knowledgeable the family and caretakers are, the less exacerbations and hospitalizations are seen. When families and caretakers are involved, the quality of life improves because there is an understanding about the disease and what it takes to manage it.

I know your goal is to open a preventative health center in your community once you obtain your PhD. How do you see the center providing information to the community in an effort to prevent people from becoming hospitalized due to heart related conditions and diseases?

As a PhD scholar-practitioner, the first thing I plan to formalize is a health needs assessment (HNA) for vulnerable communities. A health needs assessment is a systematic method of reviewing the health issues facing a population. This critical step will help identify disease management programs needed in vulnerable communities. Income, resources, and educational levels are three areas that often keep patients from maintaining a consistent healthcare follow-up pattern. The heart failure patient population I am most familiar with readmits to the hospital multiple times over the course of a year. These patients use the emergency department as the doctor’s office or clinic. I have asked patients if their community had clinics and disease management programs, would they go; most say yes. I hope to change negative health behaviors of individuals by being a presence in their communities. My mission and motto for social change is to “leave the world better than I found it.”

Read more about Cynthia in the Winter/Spring 2012 Walden Alumni Magazine.