Health Systems Management students give back through partnership with Young Hearts for Life
By Anna Gaynor
For Health Systems Management majors, giving back to the community looks a little different from most students’ service-learning projects.
In one of this year’s Health Care Marketing classes, junior and seniors have partnered with Young Hearts for Life (YH4L), a group offering free electrocardiograms (ECGs) to high school students in the Chicagoland area. The simple test detects heart conditions that can lead to sudden cardiac death in young adults. Over the past 10 years, YH4L performed 160,000 ECGs and identified hundreds at risk.
Instead of volunteering with YH4L though, HSM students will be developing a new marketing and communications plan for the organization.
“When I was in high school, I had them actually come to my school,” Yanna Falkiewicz, a junior, said. “I remember it being in the gymnasium. It was really quick and easy and simple, and that’s kind of what we’re aiming for in our project is to let families and educators know: It’s a simple test but it can change or alter the course of your life if something is picked up on.”
For the past semester, these HSM students have divided into three groups to work on three different parts of the campaign: A press kit to explain YH4L’s mission to media, donors, school administrators, and educators; an interactive wall and brochure to engage and educate high schoolers about the test and how it works; and a blog to act as a resource and support group for family and friends who have lost someone to sudden cardiac death.
“This is our only marketing- and communication-specific class outside of general COMM 101, which is just public speaking,” said Hannah Cooper, who is helping develop the press kit. “We’re all going into health care, so being able to apply marketing techniques to the field that we’re going into I think has been really useful for us.”
Reaching out to students and their families is particularly important for an organization like YH4L, according to Joseph Marek, MD, the Loyola Stritch alum who founded the organization more than 10 years ago. By looking at 5,000 students, their volunteers may identify five who potentially have a life-threatening condition, so getting more students, parents, and educators engaged is key.
“The more kids that we can test, the more that we will identify, who have potentially life-threatening problems, to get them medical attention and hopefully prevent a catastrophe for them,” Marek said. “It’s really a numbers game. These conditions that we’re looking for—although they’re not rare, they’re not common. You have to sift through a lot of kids to find the ones who are at risk.”
These HSM students are getting the chance to present a real-world marketing pitch—but that also means researching it as if they were in the real world. In addition to using different marketing tools, they need to understand the science behind the work YH4L is doing. For Joan Bufalino, MS, MSN, BSN, their course instructor, that approach is something she wants to stay with them.
“They have to understand about arrhythmias, they have to understand ECGs,” Bufalino said. “It’s a personal issue for me that they get the medical aspect as well as the marketing—that they really understand the principals of health care delivery, not just administering it but actually knowing what’s involved.”
Bufalino, a supporter of YH4L since its beginning, approached Joseph Marek about teaming up with her class, and it’s their help that he appreciates.
“Doing these ECGs is easy and interpreting them is easy,” he said. “The biggest challenge that I face is awareness and communication, so what these students are doing for us, I think, can have a very significant impact on saving lives—as much as me reading the ECGs.”
The materials the students developed are something YH4L could easily use, said Kathy Marek, a Niehoff alum, a member of the group’s community advisory committee, and Joseph’s wife. When the organization started, they encountered many people who didn’t understand that sudden cardiac death could affect young adults.
“We quickly that realized that our mission can’t only be to screen,” Kathy said. “It has to be to educate the community. You can no longer just send a letter—everybody gets their media in different ways. You have to be creative; you have to be on the cutting edge. This is why we were so excited to work with Joan’s class. We initially thought we’d get some fresh ideas, but they blew us out of the water.”
To learn more about YH4L, visit yh4l.org.