When you go to the doctor, you often get more time with your nurse or nurse practitioner than you do with the doctor. Nurses are an invaluable member of your healthcare team, and on May 6 we celebrate National Nurses Day.
In recognition of this day, the Family Heart Foundation would like to shine a spotlight on one nurse practitioner helping us spread awareness and save lives.
Jan McAlister, DNP grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana. “I went to undergraduate school at Auburn University and got my master’s at Duke University,” she explains.
It was while she was studying, McAlister fell in love with the world of cardiology. She moved to Atlanta in 2001 to start a lipid clinic that is now known as the Piedmont Heart Institute. Today it’s one of the largest lipid clinics in the region.
“How do I prevent this happening to me?”
McAlister’s devotion to lipids and heart disease prevention is more than professional. It’s personal. “My dad had his first event in his forties,” she says. “He had a bypass at 52 and had recurrent stents.” Her father discovered he had high Lipoprotein(a), also known as Lp(a). Because so many of the men in her family were experiencing early heart events, McAlister’s brother asked her “how do I prevent this from happening to me?”
She took her brother under her care. She began treating him aggressively and he’s 57, bypassing the age most of the men in her family have their first event.
“The first thing I say is it’s not your fault.”
In her clinic, McAlister sees patients at every stage of their Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) or Lp(a) journey. She approaches each patient with compassion and care. “The first thing I say is it’s not your fault,” she explains. “We all have a tendency to wonder what we could have done to make it different – is it the fried food? The cheeseburger? That’s why I always remind them it’s not their fault.”
The second thing she tells her patients is to relax. She reassures them that there are options.
“And the third thing I say is they’re not alone,” says McAlister. “It’s a team approach. It’s a provider and a patient working together as a team for a common goal of aggressively treating and preventing negative outcomes.”
McAlister takes her time with new patients, knowing too much information can be very overwhelming. “We know through behavioral studies that people are only going to retain maybe three points out of the 20 points you gave them,” she explains.
In her work, McAlister has been a pivotal partner with the Family Heart Foundation. She has contributed significantly to the CASCADE FH® Registry. She explains, “It gives us a database of FH patients who are ideal for research and allows for the tracking of current trends in FH diagnosis and treatment.. The Family Heart Foundation has published over 30 scientific papers based on the information collected in the Registry. This helps to inform physicians and other health care professionals about the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of FH. Early diagnosis and treatment of FH can help to improve health outcomes for those with FH.
“I love making a difference.”
We have never had more cholesterol-lowering therapies than we do today. Some of them are a little more difficult to access. “I love being able to get patients the access to the care they need to make things better. I love making a difference,” McAlister says.
She also acknowledges that she often turns to the tools available on the Family Heart Foundation website. “It’s a great resource,” she explains. “I don’t have to do all the work because I have a shared appreciation with an organization that serves as a resource for the patient. I use their pamphlets and send my patients to their website.”
McAlister understands and lives the mission of the Foundation because she’s dedicated to saving more families, more hearts.
Thank you to Jan and nurses everywhere who are involved in the care of individuals with the genetic conditions of Familial Hypercholesterolemia and high Lipoprotein(a).