More Than a Leap of Faith
Alumna Improves Heart Health at Church Through Education, Screenings, Faith
By Teri Speece
For many patients with high blood pressure, taking steps to eat right, be active and take their medications can be a challenge. Venetia Cantrell, D.N.P., M.S.N., B.S.N., FNP-BC, found an effective way to change behaviors for one group by addressing their health where they practice their faith.
Dr. Cantrell, a 2016 graduate of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program in the School of Nursing, launched a three-month project with 124 members of her church to measure the effectiveness of combining faith and health education to improve blood pressure. Participants were predominately African American, an ethnic group with the highest prevalence of cardiovascular disease. “I wanted to choose a subject that was close to home, and I have high blood pressure,” said Dr. Cantrell, who turned to the Health & Wellness Ministry of Covenant Community Church in San Antonio for help. The team incorporated ideas from the Centers for Disease Control’s “Million Hearts” public health initiative into the church’s program, which already offered monthly blood pressure screenings. The team distributed weekly fliers with meal ideas, heart health facts and scriptures about wellness. They began monthly fellowship events with guest speakers, who discussed risk factors and prevention. The church also incorporated healthier dishes into all fellowship meals. “We wanted our members to eat a little healthier. That was originally a six-month trial, but it’s still going today.”
The project also concentrated on encouraging physical activity by walking the church parking lot and dancing. “I was able to get a line dance instructor to teach us steps to gospel music. We had a big turnout for that,” said Dr. Cantrell. One of the simplest additions—providing wallet-size cards to members with their screening results—empowered many participants to take better control of their condition. “One member said that, as a result of taking her numbers back to her doctor, she was able to get her medication adjusted to better control her blood pressure,” she said. Dr. Cantrell’s results demonstrated notable improvements in most of the participants’ blood pressure readings and health habits. More importantly, participants enthusiastically report continuing to practice good habits, said Carolyn Poole, a registered nurse who leads the Health & Wellness Ministry.
“Many members come up to me to report what their pressures are and what they are still doing to change their diet—getting rid of canned goods, buying fresh or frozen vegetables and getting off the salt,” said Poole.
“It became very enlightening for a lot of them, because when they started adhering to the treatment plan, their numbers started to improve,” said Poole. “They could see the results.”
Dr. Cantrell said the experience taught her that a lot of people do not understand normal blood pressure range, but they want more information. “They say things like, ‘Oh, that’s how my blood pressure has always been; that’s normal for me.’ Just to be able to educate people about cardiovascular disease was wonderful, and to work with them, actually see results and get positive feedback, that was great,” she added.