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Gauging Public Health: Nursing students conduct health screening at state Capitol

Posted: Jan. 29, 2013

Bertha Eloisa “Penny” Chapa-Flores

School of nursing students screened hundreds of individuals
for high cholesterol.

A team of 19 public health students and faculty from the School of Nursing recently assembled at the Capitol of Texas. No, they weren’t lobbying or demonstrating, but they were seeking an audience with state legislators—to provide a non-fasting, total cholesterol screening as part of a larger general health promotion emphasis. This is the second time students have offered the health screenings coordinated by the State of Texas Employee Retirement System for the benefit of lawmakers, legislative aides and other capitol employees.

During a span of three hours, the senior-level students administered the procedure to 97 individuals. They also provided individual health instruction and brochures to those who wanted to know more about how to achieve a healthy cholesterol level and how to talk with family members about healthy eating and activity. The students were monitored by faculty members Dr. Bobbie Sterling and Shalonda Horton, RN, doctoral student, and assisted by Adetoun Obadofin, RN and master’s student, with cooperation from Dr. Karen Johnson.

“Many Americans will suffer from or be affected by heart disease, cancer or diabetes during their lifetime. Health screenings are an important opportunity to educate the community about ways to prevent and fight these illnesses,” said Candice Engelmann, BSN class of 2013.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33 percent of adults in the United States have a high cholesterol reading and almost 50 percent of those do not follow through with treatment. Much of the cost of treating cardiovascular disease—an estimated $300 billion each year—could be reduced with the early diagnosis and effective treatment of elevated cholesterol levels.

“Cholesterol screening is so important because cardiovascular disease is such a prevalent, yet preventable condition,” said Kristen Pajares, BSN Class of 2013. “By monitoring blood cholesterol, we can detect potential problems early. This knowledge empowers patients to take steps to improve their heart health, such as modifying diet and exercise, which can greatly improve their health.”

More than a hundred people attended the public health event held on the ground floor of the Capitol rotunda. Among the legislators on hand were Rep. Donna Howard, a nurse and alumna of the UT Austin School of Nursing. Tim Flynn, nurse practitioner for the Capitol and alumnus of the School of Nursing, also stopped by to observe the students at work.

“From today’s screening, we found that 30 percent of the participants had cholesterol levels that were borderline high and elevated. Our students were able to provide information on risk factors for heart disease from elevated cholesterol levels and delineate steps that can be taken to reduce some of these factors,” said Sterling, assistant professor of Clinical Nursing. “If these individuals take this information and follow through with their health-care provider, we will begin to see a reduction in the incidence of serious health problems for individuals and families.

The collaborative activity with the Employee Retirement System is one part of the School of Nursing’s community health promotion outreach that provides a significant service to the public and allows students to have community-based health teaching experience.

“Health screenings not only offer important awareness for the participants, but also give student nurses the opportunity to be out in the community and interact with our neighbors,” said Gabrielle Mueller, BSN, Class of 2013. “This human exchange improves health, increases prevention and builds relationships.”