When Dr. Jennifer Mieres started her career, there were few women in the field of cardiology. Today, she is one of the leading experts in heart health, with a special focus on women. She goes above and beyond her job description, and works to educate the female population by providing simple steps that can prevent heart disease. Her book, Heart Smart for Black Women and Latinas, and documentary, A Woman’s Heart — which was nominated for an Emmy — do just that.
Her newest project, Rx: The Quiet Revolution, premiered on PBS on April 2nd. As an executive producer alongside filmmaker David Grubin, she explained that the documentary tells the stories of health care professionals across the nation who put their patients at the heart of their practices.
Mieres’ jobs as senior vice president in the Office of Community and Public Health at North Shore-LIJ and professor of cardiology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine means she’s had to “hang up her stethoscope.” Although she is no longer seeing patients, her work is dedicated to impacting policy to foster their empowerment. An Upper East Sider, Mieres’ home, as well as her professional roots, are in Manhattan. She began her training at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt and was later chosen to be the chief of nuclear cardiology at NYU Langone Medical Center. The 55-year-old has seen the extraordinary advancements in the field over the years. “When I started medical school, a heart attack was just about lethal. Now we have drugs that break up a clot and started putting stents in,” she said.
When you were seven, you knew you wanted to be a heart doctor after your grandfather passed away from a heart attack.My grandfather having heart disease, or hardening of the arteries as it was called, made me vow to be a doctor. I thought that if I was a doctor I could help him and he wouldn’t have to die and leave us all. And so I pursued the sciences. I grew up in Trinidad and then went to Bennington and was on the path to becoming a physician. I went to BU for medical school where I met Dr. Alice Jacobs, a female cardiologist, and she inspired me and showed me that cardiology was what I wanted to do. There were very few women in cardiology at the time. I did my training in New York City, at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, and I met another strong female role model, Dr. Judith Hochman, who inspired me to continue my path in cardiology, but also do research and look at women and heart disease. She became my hero, mentor and sponsor, not only for my academic advancement, but for the areas of work-life balance and motherhood .While at St. Luke’s, I also met Doctors Alan Rozanski and Gordon DePuey, who had just come to St. Luke’s from Cedar Sinai and they were focusing on imaging of the heart, and that’s how I became involved in nuclear cardiology. They supported my success and my becoming the first female president of the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology.
What is nuclear cardiology? Nuclear cardiology involves using a small amount of radioactive material to look at the blood flow to the heart during rest and exercise. And the whole theory is that if you have blockage of the arteries, blood flow will be normal at rest, but when you exercise, you would see deficiencies in the flow. I became a nuclear cardiologist, really an imager, and used that skill to figure out which tests were better for diagnosing coronary artery disease in women.
What was your experience like at NYU?It was really a great experience for me. I had the chief of cardiology, Dr. Glenn Fishman, and Dr. Hochman, my mentor, who were very supportive. It was an academically focused environment. There was a lot of support for clinical research and community outreach and engagement. At the time I was president of ASNC [American Society of Nuclear Cardiology]so that was highly supported. I got recruited by NYU to be their director of nuclear cardiology and was there for four years, after being the director of nuclear cardiology at North Shore in Manhasset.
You wrote the book Heart Smart for Black Women and Latinas. What sparked that project?I had been volunteering for the American Heart Association since 1999. My mantra in life is that you got to give back, which came from my mom and dad.The reason to write the book came from the people I met along the way when I was doing lectures across the country for the American Heart Association. They said, “You have to make it simple for us.” I would always say that 80 percent of heart disease can be prevented. And the women who I would meet would say to me, “It sounds good, but if you could write it down and make it simple, it would be something we can refer to.” There were books about heart disease, but they were written from the intellectual perspective. The idea is that simple things can become part of your daily routine to fight heart disease.
You were nominated for an Emmy for producing a PBS documentary called A Women’s Heart. Did you ever think you would become involved in the film world?No. Part of who I am is an educator. The producer I work with said, “People in this country take their cues from the media. The way you reach people is by getting people to tell their stories on film.” And I never thought I could do it, and then I took the challenge and it was quite an impressive journey.
Your new documentary is called Rx: The Quiet Revolution. Why did you choose that name?I saw that we still live in a country where people are not partners in their health, so the idea came to show communities in the United States that have taken health care into their own hands. I felt it could be a powerful piece, so I partnered with David Grubin who had produced The Mysterious Human Heart. We put our heads together to figure out what to call it. “RX” was his idea and he added “The Quiet Revolution,” because after he had toured the country and spoken to patients, doctors, nurses and medical teams, somebody said to him, “This is a quiet revolution.” Not many knew about these patterns of care in the United States. My goal was to change the health care conversation. No one is really talking about the true meaning of that patient partnership. A large percent of health care outcomes occur outside of the doctor/patient or medical team encounters. So how do you empower people? How do you get them to be partners?
What have you learned through your research for the book and documentaries? I really learned about people’s perceptions. I found that most people want to do the right thing, but there were lots of cultural and personal misperceptions on health and medications. I learned that there was definitely a lack of trust of the medical community and that the doctor/patient community was fractured.
What is the hardest part of your job?It’s integrating the tenets of diversity into daily health care delivery. It’s much easier when training medical students because they’re thirsty and open to a whole new model where patients come first. Dealing with a large health system and trying to make cultural competency and elimination of disparity a key part of everyday life is just a little bit challenging. And understandably so, because health care is in a huge transitional phase right now and doctors are burdened with paperwork and electronic medical records, so I work with my team to integrate small changes one step at a time to foster cultural and linguistic competency into the daily practice of medicine.
Follow Mieres on Twitter @DrJMieres. For more information on Rx: The Quiet Revolution, visit: www.rxfilm.org