Clinical nurse educators serve as a direct link to patients' self-management of cardiovascular disease through patient education and support programs. Physicians prescribe many different drugs and heart-healthy lifestyle directives for their cardiovascular disease patients, but busy health care providers often lack the time to help patients understand, administer and adhere to drug therapies and guidelines.

As we observe World Heart Day today, I wanted to share how clinical nurse educators (CNEs) create a positive impact on cardiovascular disease management by working to promote patients' adherence to therapy through patient-centered heart health education and support. As a CNE myself, I see that impact first-hand.

Cardiology nursing is in important part of each CNE's work history in this field. Our previous clinical experience in cardiology fuels our fire for cardiovascular treatment and prevention. My personal passion springs from my experience as a cardio-thoracic intensive care nurse. Having cared for patients in their most critical moments after cardiac surgery inspires and motivates me to champion each patient's ability to self-manage their cardiovascular disease.

First and foremost, we build meaningful relationships with patients and their caregivers, physicians and staff. These relationships are key in enhancing a patient's ability to live a healthier life. We build these relationships by:

  • Engaging our patients and their loved ones by providing clinical information, time and understanding. We regularly conduct education sessions lasting one to two hours — an amount of patient-focused clinical time not typically available in today's time-constrained healthcare environment.  

  • Teaching them about their heart-related medications and how to take them as directed by their doctor.  

  • Educating them on heart-healthy living.  

  • Assessing their knowledge base, support systems and any obstacles to learning and adherence.  

  • Listening to their stories of sorrow, success and celebration they have experienced living with cardiovascular disease.

When we truly understand our patients, we can tailor our initial and follow-up education to meet each patient's specific learning and lifestyle needs. The knowledge and understanding we gain about our patients' fears, hopes and dreams allows us to more accurately educate and support them as they manage their cardiovascular disease.

A case example

In our nurse education sessions, patients not only share general knowledge about the heart, but often, they share feelings they hold deeply within it. In one example, I had a patient tell me that he had decided not to take a medication his physician had recently prescribed. When I inquired what led him to make that decision, my patient shared his worry about the potential adverse side effects he could experience, especially after seeing several close family members with terminal illnesses suffer from the side effects of other medications. Our time together in education was unencumbered, as was the patient's ability to fully explain his thoughts, fears and questions about his new prescription, largely related to the potential side effects. My compassion for my patient — coupled with unrestricted clinical time — allowed me to actively listen, understand and empathize with his difficult journey. Once we established a level of mutual understanding regarding his worries and fears, I was able to provide education that was most relevant and meaningful for him. Throughout our two hours together, we engaged in an education session discussing both clinical information about the new medication, as well as information on healthy living. After our time together, he spoke further with his physician and decided to begin the treatment plan, including taking the newly prescribed medication.

An increasingly valuable role

I am grateful that my role as a CNE affords me the ability to best educate and support each patient. I share with all of my patients that knowledge is power, and it is my goal to empower them with knowledge so they may engage in informed discussions with their health care providers to make the best decisions regarding the management of their cardiovascular disease.

From my perspective, the future is bright for role of the clinical nurse educator within our current healthcare environment. Comprehensive, patient-centered education takes time. As increasing time constraints are placed upon physicians and staff, the need for the CNE and patient education and support programs is sure to grow. Patients and healthcare providers alike express appreciation for a cardiovascular disease management education program that offers crucial clinical information, ample time for learning, and follow-up education and support.

CNEs are a vehicle for improved patient health. We understand, educate, encourage and support patients along the road of cardiovascular disease self-management. Together with our patients, physicians, and staff, CNEs are on an important journey towards improved cardiovascular health — a journey that we can all take to heart.