In January of my first year of medical school, I took a break from studying microbiology and immunology (“Attacks and Defenses”) to attend a local American Heart Association meeting. Although I was admittedly anxious about missing out on four hours of studying for what I was hearing was “the hardest exam of medical school,” this would turn out to be one of those events that changed the course of my medical school career. I listened to UVM Professor of Medicine Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., speak about the AHA’s mission to reduce mortality from heart disease and stroke by 20 percent by 2020 and the various initiatives in place to accomplish this goal. I was amazed to hear about all of the AHA’s accomplishments over the past few decades in the realms of anti-tobacco legislation, CPR training and emergency cardiac care, and research addressing heart disease and stroke risk factors in women and minority populations. But, during this meeting, I learned that the AHA has a long way to go to achieve its 2020 mission. I left that evening inspired to help this incredible organization achieve its goal in any way that I could.
Several months after this first meeting, an unexpected opportunity arose. The Vermont AHA was establishing a first-ever Board of Directors, and, since I had expressed interest in getting involved with the AHA, I was invited to serve as a medical student member of the board. I could not have imagined the unique opportunities and experiences that I have had since. I have met national AHA leaders, represented the VT AHA at a variety of statewide events, led the UVM College of Medicine Heart Walk team, recruited local businesses and fellow medical students to “Go Red” for women, and helped to plan a stroke awareness rally on Church Street. I also got involved in clinical research studying cardiovascular disease and fitness in breast cancer patients with fellow board member and UVM Assistant Professor of Medicine Susan Lakoski M.D., M.S.— an experience which helped me to figure out what I wanted to do for my career. I am immensely grateful to have gotten to know the dedicated, hard-working, and passionate people that have served on the board. They have all taught me about the importance of volunteerism and community spirit.
The annual Vermont Heart Walk has been particularly rewarding, and it is coming up this year on Saturday, September 27th. I have seen this event grow significantly since I led my first team of medical students and faculty members in 2012, when we braved a mile-long walk in a downpour when it was 50 degrees outside to show our commitment to fighting heart disease and stroke. In 2012, just after the board was founded, 145 walkers raised $60,000, and, only one year later, 500 walkers raised $100,000 to support education, research, and advocacy efforts by the AHA. Being a part of the Heart Walk’s growth has been awesome, but the most powerful and memorable experience for me has been walking alongside our community’s heart disease and stroke survivors in order to show my support for their treatment and recovery.
As a medical student, it is easy to lose one’s connection with the community. Most of us have never experienced a workload nearly as demanding as that in medical school and respond by giving up as many extracurricular activities we feel is necessary to keep afloat. And that is understandable. But, as I approach the end of medical school, I realize now how important it was for me to remain involved in something that I care deeply about, which for me, is improving the health of my community. Getting involved with the AHA gave meaning to my experience as a medical student and helped me to remember why I was learning the basic and clinical science of medicine – particularly during the stressful times!
With the 2014 Heart Walk approaching, I hope that each of you will take the opportunity to show your own commitment to improving the cardiovascular health of our community by walking with or donating to the College of Medicine team. As medical students, I believe that it is important for us to show that we support our patients both inside and outside of the hospital and to have a strong presence at health-promoting events such as the Heart Walk. As the next generation of physicians, our community members hold us in high esteem and look to us to advance the care of heart disease and stroke, which are the #1 killers of Vermonters. Join me in walking in the 2014 Heart Walk on September 27th to show your support for this important cause.
Join the UVM College of Medicine team or donate here