Message from the Chief

The United States of America is an aging nation, and given that age is a significant risk factor for heart disease, this demographic looms large as we plan future cardiovascular medicine services at the University of Arizona Division of Cardiology, UA Sarver Heart Center and Banner – University Medical Center clinical facilities in Tucson.

Nationally, 20 percent of the total population of 316 million are people age 60 and older, according to the Pima Council on Aging’s Community Report, which analyzed the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 2015. Statewide, 21 percent of Arizona’s 6.6 million people are age 60 or older, a number projected to reach 25 percent by 2020. In Pima County, from 2010 to 2015, the growth rate of people age 60 or older was 17.5 percent, compared to the overall population growth rate of just 3 percent. It is currently estimated that the cardiovascular workforce in Tucson is substantially less than demand requires, and this workforce deficit will only grow in the next decade! One of our missions is to work tirelessly to ensure we are able to provide timely and expert heart care to everyone in our community quickly and efficiently, while providing access to the latest in new therapies and research to all our patients. 

The implications are enormous for cardiovascular disease patient care, prevention education and workforce development — all missions of the Sarver Heart Center. As readers of this newsletter know well, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for 1 in 3 deaths. Coronary heart disease due to plaque buildup in arteries claims 43.8 percent of these lives, followed by stroke (16.8 percent), high blood pressure (9.4 percent) and heart failure (9 percent), according to an American Heart Association statistical update published in the journal Circulation in 2018.

UA Division of Cardiology faculty and staff and Sarver Heart members are collaborating to address the approaching heart disease epidemic as the last-born of the Baby Boomers approach age 65. While we care for patients of all ages with heart disease at Banner – University Medicine Tucson, more than 90 percent of atherosclerotic heart disease occurs in people older than 60. To address the boom on the patient-care front, we are welcoming four more cardiologists to our faculty by the end of October 2018 for a total of eight new faculty in the past academic year. Bolstering the physician workforce are six nurse practitioners with specialty cardiovascular knowledge, two of them new recruits to our division. Our research programs show promise as clinical and basic science faculty collaborate and mentor young physicians and scientists to bring the latest and most promising basic science discoveries into the realm of clinical care. Our clinical trials program currently provides our patients access to more than 40 experimental disease treatments across multiple cardiovascular conditions, more than any cardiovascular program in the state.

In education, we continue to expand cardiovascular fellowship training at the division, the center and Banner – University Medicine to include accredited subspecialty programs in electrophysiology and heart failure, in addition to growing the program in general cardiovascular medicine and our continuing excellence in training the next generation of specialists in interventional cardiology. Our faculty members work side by side every day with UA medical students, resident physicians, cardiovascular medicine fellows and scientists in diverse disciplines, from cellular and molecular medicine to biomedical engineering.

Our ongoing commitment to community education is heavily focused on saving lives through chest-compression-only CPR training and preventing heart disease, particularly helping people recognize heart disease risks and symptoms and to seek early medical care. Early attention to cardiovascular risk and symptoms improves outcomes. Whether studying heart-disease risk reduction or advocating to eliminate health disparities, our faculty members continue to lead nationally on these issues while working tirelessly to educate the people of Arizona.

While the shift towards an older population appears monumental, together we can continue on the path of innovation while providing life-saving patient care in our state.

Nancy K. Sweitzer, MD, PhD
Director, UA Sarver Heart Center
Chief, Division of Cardiology, and Professor, Department of Medicine
University of Arizona College of Medicine - Tucson