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February is American Heart Month
- a time designated to bringing awareness to heart disease, which is – the leading cause of death in the United States.  

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), most middle aged people (90 to 95 percent) and young adults (75 to 80 percent) have one or more risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, being a smoker or being overweight. More than one risk factor nearly doubles the risk for heart disease. Also according to NHLBI, more than 630,000 Americans die from heart diseases each year.

February is American Heart MonthAs the need for more cardiac healthcare continues to rise, so does the need for cardiac healthcare providers. While statistics have shown that the growth rate of cardiology professionals in America does not meet the amount needed to provide sufficient cardiac care, especially for the aging population, physician assistants (PAs) have begun to specialize within cardiology.

Physician assistant is one of the fastest growing professions within health science. To become a PA, one must complete an accredited PA program, such as the one in the University’s College of Health Sciences, pass the national certification exam, maintain their continuing education and re-certification, and obtain licensing within the state(s)  they practice. PAs can specialize in different areas of medicine, including cardiology.

Jennifer Mas, MMS ‘17, PA-C is a Salus alum who now works as a cardiology PA. Her practice ensures each patient is educated with evidence-based recommendations in prevention, risk factors, and any presenting cardiac illness.

“Being a cardiology PA is one of the most fulfilling careers,” she said. “I see patients in the hospital and office setting, interpret electrocardiograms (ECG), conduct nuclear stress tests, post care of Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD), pacemaker implantation and cardiac catheterization with Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI).”

Jennifer MasAs a newer graduate, Mas has some advice for any current PA students that may have an interest in specializing in cardiology. “I encourage the students interested in cardiology to be current with the American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines, be an expert in ECG interpretation, and spend time in a critical-care rotation.”

According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, cardiology is the largest internal medicine subspecialty for physician assistants, with more than 2,300 certified PAs practicing in cardiology and over an additional 2,100 PAs practicing in cardiac and thoracic – spine in the upper back and abdomen -surgery. As the number of cardiology PAs continue to grow, they have become an integral source in fighting heart disease.

With the goal of raising awareness about heart disease, the month is also used to share encouraging facts about how to keep the heart healthy.

Tips for a healthier heart include:
  • Know your body mass index (BMI)
  • Implement an exercise schedule daily - even if it means walking for 30 minutes every day
  • Implement a low-salt diet
  • Know your family medical history
  • Avoid ethyl alcohol (ETOH) intake