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Empowering future nurses: bridging the gap in women’s heart health education

Program enhances students’ practice experience and aims to improve patient care

By Nazli Parast, Lisa Comber, & Bonnie Quinlan
June 3, 2024
A prevalent gap remains in research, education and care specific to cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention and treatment in women, which contributes to women’s morbidity and mortality from CVD. Unfortunately, there is a deficit of sex- and gender-specific educational material regarding CVD prevention, diagnosis, and management in training programs for nurses.

Nursing students play a crucial role in health care, often serving as direct-care staff in various institutions, community settings, and especially emergency departments. However, despite students’ essential role, women’s heart health education is commonly overlooked in their four years of nursing education.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of premature death for women, resulting in the death of over 25,000 women annually in Canada (Heart & Stroke, 2017). Although research in CVD has given rise to progress in clinical care, medical education and public awareness, few of these advances have applied specifically to women’s cardiovascular health (Adreak et al., 2021). Despite the high rates of CVD among Canadian women, they remain “under-researched, under-diagnosed, under-treated, and under-supported during recovery” (Heart & Stroke, 2017, p. 2). Two-thirds of clinical research on heart disease focuses on men (Heart & Stroke, 2017).

A prevalent gap remains in research, education and care specific to CVD prevention and treatment in women, which contributes to women’s morbidity and mortality from CVD. Unfortunately, there is a deficit of sex- and gender-specific educational material regarding CVD prevention, diagnosis, and management in training programs for nurses (Adreak et al., 2021).

Recognizing the significance of this knowledge gap, in 2022 the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre, which operates under the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, partnered with a nursing program at Algonquin College, the University of Ottawa bachelor of science in nursing collaborative, and the University of Ottawa master’s of nursing program. The goal of this partnership was to address this critical issue and enhance the training of future nurses. The partnership is ongoing.

The purpose of this article is to share our experience with nurse educators, and to provide an example of how programs can ensure students receive enhanced practice experience focused on women’s heart health.

The initiative that we describe in this article pursued a two-fold strategy: one aspect focused on providing training to nursing students through a community nursing program, while the other aspect centred on the involvement of master’s students , enriching their knowledge and experience in this specialized domain.

The initiative was conducted by the Women’s Heart Health Clinic, which is an outpatient cardiac facility operating under the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

Training of community program nursing students

The initiative began with a group of six enthusiastic nursing students who expressed interest in learning about women’s heart health and registered for the women’s heart health community nursing program. The program provided these students with a unique opportunity to delve into this important area of health care and gain essential knowledge to better serve female patients. Students were immersed in a comprehensive learning experience, receiving expert guidance and training from health-care professionals specialized in women’s heart health. The program covered various aspects, such as risk factors, symptomatology, diagnostic challenges, and evidence-based treatment approaches specifically tailored to women.

The nursing students were also encouraged to apply their newfound knowledge practically by organizing a paint night event at their university. This innovative approach served as an engaging platform to educate over 40 peers about women’s heart health. By combining education with creativity and interaction, the students successfully captured the attention and interest of their fellow students. The nursing students organized a painting activity and provided a PowerPoint presentation to deliver information to their audience (university students from various disciplines) regarding heart disease in women, risk factors and the resources available.

The students chose a paint night in order to have an event that would be entertaining and educational. The event turned out to be a resounding success. Not only did it allow the six students to enhance their knowledge, but it also had a ripple effect as the attendees at the event gained valuable insights into women’s heart health. This initiative effectively promoted awareness among their peers and expanded the knowledge base on women’s cardiovascular issues within the university community.

Training of master’s student in nursing

When the partnership was launched, the Women’s Heart Health Clinic took a progressive step by accepting a master’s student in nursing to help train, with a particular focus on advanced practice nursing and the broader nursing role. The clinic took this additional measure because it recognized the complexity of the advanced practice role, which requires expertise in various areas, and wanted to provide support to master’s students embarking on this challenging path. Supporting these students is crucial for their success as they not only need to grasp patient care intricacies but also stay updated with scientific advancements while advocating for women’s heart health.

The involvement of master’s students at the Women’s Heart Health Clinic serves multiple purposes. It allows these aspiring nurses to delve deeply into the complexities of advanced practice nursing and understand the unique aspects of caring for women’s heart health. By immersing themselves in this specialized setting, students gain practical skills and insights that are not always attainable in a traditional classroom environment. Furthermore, the integration of scientific information is crucial in the health-care field, especially when dealing with the intricacies of heart health. The clinic provides an ideal learning environment for master’s students to stay abreast of the latest research and evidence-based practices. This ensures that they are well equipped to provide the highest standard of care for women with cardiovascular concerns.

By actively advocating for women’s heart health, master’s students also learn to be effective patient advocates. They understand the importance of promoting sex-specific care and breaking down barriers to access health care for women. This advocacy role is a fundamental aspect of advanced practice nursing, and the Women’s Heart Health Clinic serves as a platform for students to hone this essential skill. A master’s student who underwent the initiative expressed immense satisfaction with her placements at the clinic, stating, “I was one of the few students who was able to observe all the various components of an advanced practice role.” She mentioned that the exposure to real-world scenarios, along with the guidance from experienced professionals, equipped her with the confidence and competence needed to excel in her chosen field.

Enthusiastic reception from students

The impact of this program is far-reaching and has sparked enthusiasm among nursing students. Moving forward, the partnership between the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre, Women’s Heart Health Clinic, and the nursing programs will continue to provide opportunities for future nursing students to expand their knowledge in this vital area of health care. By investing in formal training and educational initiatives in women’s heart health, nursing students will be able to understand the sex-specific risk factors, prevention, treatment and management options and be better equipped to provide specialized and patient-centred care to women with cardiovascular concerns.

At the end of each academic year, undergraduate students are expected to understand the gap in women’s heart health, the importance of sex-specific risk factors, and the significance of proper assessment of the symptoms of heart attack in women, as well as knowing the available resources.

Master’s students, meanwhile, with their advanced degrees, should not only be able to understand these gaps and risk factors, they should also have better knowledge of proper symptom assessment and available resources. Further, they should be able to think of research opportunities that can advance the profession.

By receiving education and information first-hand from an advanced practice nurse specializing in women’s heart health and collaborating with staff from the women’s heart health team, all students (undergraduate and graduate) were able to enrich their knowledge. As they progress in their nursing careers, these students will become powerful advocates for women’s heart health, helping to close the existing gap in care and ultimately contributing to improved patient outcomes.


The women’s heart health community nursing program has been instrumental in elevating the awareness and knowledge of nursing students regarding women’s heart health. By combining specialized training with interactive educational events, the project has fostered a generation of compassionate and knowledgeable nurses who recognize the importance of addressing this critical area of health care. With this continued partnership, nursing students will have the opportunity to thrive in their careers, making a significant difference in the lives of female patients and further advancing the field of women’s heart health.

Our hope is for other nursing programs across Canada to offer women’s heart health placements to extend knowledge in this area for future nurses.


Adreak, N., Srivaratharajah, K., Mullen, K.-A., Pike, A., Mackay, M. H., Comber, L., & Abramson, B. L. (2021). Incorporating a women’s cardiovascular health curriculum into medical education. CJC Open, 3(12 Suppl), S187–S191. doi:10.1016/j.cjco.2021.09.020

Heart & Stroke. (2017). Ms.Understood.

Nazli Parast, RN, CDE, BScN, MScN, EdD, is a scientist and advanced practice nurse within the women’s heart health and hypertension clinics at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.
Lisa Comber, BA, KTPC, is a manager at the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Alliance and knowledge translation manager at the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre.
Bonnie Quinlan, RN, BScN, MScN, is the director of prevention and rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.