Heart Helpers
Interdisciplinary effort puts HHS students at the center of potentially lifesaving program

Part of the student discovery process is experiential learning, and experience can be a great teacher. Just ask Brittany Nikolich, a recent graduate who hopes to become a registered dietitian. Nikolich (NUTR '11) worked with clients involved in a hypertension program at Purdue's Ismail Center. The clients are now on the road to better health.

The project, spearheaded by Lane Yahiro, Ismail's director and clinical associate professor of health and kinesiology, brings together students from his department, nursing, nutrition science and pharmacy with supervising professors.

"I wanted to provide a program for our members that would help them improve their health, quality of life and decrease health care costs," says Yahiro, who worked for five years in a hospital cardiac rehab setting in Chicago and 17 years at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette. "Because one out of every three American adults has high blood pressure, a hypertension program seemed like a good place to start."

Ulrike Dydak

Morgan Monroe, a senior in health and kinesiology, measures the blood pressure of Jim Stevenson at Purdue's Ismail Center as Lane Yahiro, Ismail's director and clinical associate professor of health and kinesiology, supervises. (Photo by Steven Yang)

Yahiro says there's no substitute for that real-life experience. And the students got some real results to prove it. One of the early clients was a man who routinely ran inside Lambert Fieldhouse. When they first measured his resting blood pressure it was 182 over 112. "He didn't even know it was that high, and that's why they call it the silent killer," Yahiro says. "We called his doctor right away and made an appointment. He's a success story because his blood pressure is very well controlled now."

Clinical faculty also include Patti Darbishire from pharmacy, Vicki Simpson from nursing and Donna Zoss from nutrition science. With their own recruited students, the foursome developed an assessment and treatment that's tailored to the participants, whose average age is 68. Since 2010, 16 members have gone through the semester-long programs. Once a client signs up, nursing students perform a basic health risk assessment; health and kinesiology students work up an exercise program (usually aerobic-based); pharmacy students do a drug assessment; and nutrition science students provide dietary guidance.

For Nikolich, it's on-the-job training for her future career. "I worked with two hypertensive clients," she says. "I monitored their blood pressure and weight on a weekly basis. I also monitored their diet with a three-day food record, analyzed it and gave them recommendations. It really allowed me to practice counseling skills along with the clinical aspects."

Clients are paired with a student from each discipline, and a professor monitors the interaction. From a student standpoint, the interdisciplinary program may show its best results as the teams meet to discuss their experiences. "The group conference meetings are a real eye-opener," Yahiro says. "Students present cases and then have excellent discussions where they learn a lot from each other as they develop a well-rounded program for the clients."

It's no easy task encouraging people to make healthy life choices. From taking a man's blood pressure while he's on an elliptical machine to spelling out a course of action to get more fruits and vegetables into a woman's daily routine, these students are making a difference in lives before they graduate.


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