During our conversation, Angela Banks, Associate Professor in the School of Nursing and Health Professions, shared her passion for patients and her research in cardiovascular disease. We discussed her Fulbright experience in Jordan, bringing stories of her patients into the classroom, and running her first marathon.
How did you first become interested in research?
At a very young age, I knew that I wanted to become a registered nurse. I enjoyed taking care of people that were sick, and whenever my family members became ill, I embraced the idea of helping them get better. I have a PhD in the Philosophy of Nursing.
While I was completing my PhD at UCSF, we had to select a particular area of interest, and I chose cardiovascular disease. I became quite interested in this area because I had a couple of family members who died prematurely as a result of cardiovascular disease.
How did you decide to come to USF?
The USF Nursing Program has a wonderful reputation in the community, and it’s highly respected throughout the state of California. I heard about USF long before I decided to come here. It was my first and only choice. I decided that after I graduated I wanted to work at this university, and it was also the only place where I interviewed. I’ve been here for 11 years and experienced many challenges, but overall I really enjoy teaching and the wonderful opportunities it has to offer.
How do you bring your research into the classroom?
Well I teach pharmacology and pathophysiology, so the heart is a fundamental aspect of my research. When I talk about the heart, I also share my research findings with my students. I want my students to be informed and understand the importance of cardiovascular disease and become advocates for their family members and themselves should they become diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.
Is there something in particular about working with the students and the program at USF that keeps you motivated?
Because of my many years working in the intensive care unit and also the emergency room, I have had an opportunity to bring those life experiences to the classroom. It brings the classroom alive. Students remember the stories that I tell them, the stories about my patients—how I advocated for my patients, how I advocated for their family members, and how they can do the same thing. I always say to them, you are the next generation of nurses. I’m just happy that I’m able to play a significant role in making you an excellent nurse. So when you graduate from this university you will have the necessary skills to care for people in the clinical setting or the community. One of these days you may have the opportunity to take care of me, or my loved ones and I want you to be well prepared for that responsibility.
What are the questions you’ve been thinking about recently?
I’m interested in cardiovascular disease and its impact on the female population. There are a lot of people that might not be aware of the fact that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of all women. It’s actually the number one killer of all Americans—men and women—but it really does impact the female population considerably more. With my dissertation, I was specifically concerned about the African American population because, even though all women as well as men in the US are impacted by this disease, it has a significantly higher consequence on the African American population. I wanted to better understand why people wait to go to the hospital when they experience signs and symptoms associated with heart disease.
What leads to these delays and disproportionate impact?
From my research, when African Americans experience cardiac signs and symptoms, they wait to see if the symptoms will disappear. Many of them are wondering if these signs and symptoms are associated with something that’s not cardiac in origin. Several people experience denial, and believe that their signs and symptoms are related to something less serious, especially the female population because women do not necessarily experience cardiac symptoms in the same way that men do. Many healthcare providers, especially male physicians are reluctant to diagnose women with cardiovascular disease even though they present to the emergency room with the classic signs and symptoms. Physicians tend to attribute the symptoms that women are having to a condition that’s less serious compared to men experiencing the same symptoms when they arrive at the hospital.
You spent some time doing research in Jordan. What brought you to the Middle East?
I was in Jordan as a Fulbright Scholar, and it was a wonderful experience. I wanted to visit a place where the language, the religion, and the culture were very different from my own, so I specifically selected Jordan. I had a lot of fear associated with the Middle East, and if you listen to the media, most people would be frightened to travel to the Middle East. I wanted to branch out to a different part of the world, and it was one of the best decisions that I have ever made for my personal and intellectual growth.
How did your research collaborations work?
At the Jordan University of Science and Technology, you really needed to be fluent in Arabic in order to conduct research, and Arabic is a very difficult language to learn. So I collaborated with professors who spoke fluent English. For instance, there was a professor who was doing some interesting work on diabetes, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, so we worked together and were successful in publishing a manuscript.
The professors also had their graduate students collect data, and then together we would analyze the data and write up the analyses. There was a tremendous amount of collaboration across disciplines, which is something I haven’t had the opportunity to do at USF. I would love to have the opportunity to work with professors across disciplines at USF, because we can learn from each other and disseminate the information to a broader audience.
I look forward to the opportunity of collaborating with my colleagues here at USF, specifically individuals who have an interest in how culture, and racial prejudice intersect with my area of research. I am currently working on a project dealing with culture, and oppression in the African American population who is suffering with heart failure.
How has your research impacted you individually?
I’m very conscious about my health, and I’m very much aware of the risk factors that will increase the chances of me developing heart disease—I try to eat a balanced diet and exercise as often as I can.
In Jordan, I actually ran my very first marathon for my students at the university. It was never my plan to run a marathon, but the whole purpose was to raise money for my students because in the Middle East students rarely have the funds to purchase books. They will usually purchase one book and make copies for all of their classmates, so I wanted to assist my students in paying tuition and buying books. Even though I didn’t raise a lot of money, all the money was donated to the university, and my students and colleagues were impressed. I encouraged people to run with me, but very few people in the Middle East run. Most people in the Middle East who run marathons are foreigners from other countries, the US being one of them.
I decided because I’m getting older and it’s such a burden on your body—that constant jarring when you’re running—so I decided to take up swimming. So now I swim because that’s the type of exercise that I can actually do for the rest of my life.
It seems like you’re always working on this goal of learning more, focusing on the community, and disseminating the information. Do you have a large goal for your research?
It’s a work in progress. If we can just get people to the hospital when they experience signs and symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease, that would be phenomenal because so many people, not just African American but also individuals from other ethnic groups, delay in getting to the hospital. When it comes to the cardiac muscle, time is very important because the longer you wait, the more damage you actually do to the heart muscle. If someone is aware of this knowledge about cardiovascular disease, it places them in a much better position to advocate for themselves and their family members.
How do you inform people about your research?
I’ve tried to reach the African American community, and educate women in general. In April, I spoke to a group of over 250 women about heart disease and shared the classic signs and symptoms. It is so important that they advocate for themselves if they go to the doctor, and if they feel like they might be experiencing symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease. It is important to get the physician to listen to them and not dismiss their concerns. A lot of it is education, but I’ve also found that even with educating people, it may not necessarily change behavior. So we still have a lot of work to do.