A Few Minutes with Dr. Michelle A. Albert

86th president of the American Heart Association

What aspects of your experience has helped you bring a different or enhanced perspective to your leadership role at the American Heart Association?

My lived experience is different from that of my predecessors. By that I mean a combination of my classic training in medicine and not coming from a privileged background. Dealing with all the challenges as a woman of color and black woman in cardiology, navigating those spaces. I have empathy for and an understanding of the lives of people who are marginalized, while having some insights into the lives of those who are not — and where that divide is.

Where are the greatest opportunities in terms messaging and raising awareness about heart health?

We need to focus more on the psychosocial contributions to cardiovascular health. Whether you are 20 or 50, this is a big issue. It cuts across the demographic spectrum. Psychosocial factors influence eating habits, smoking, sleep and other root causes of cardiovascular disease. Another factor that I believe is extremely important is the effect of economic adversity on health in general, especially cardiovascular health; this must be addressed in all aspects of healthcare whether it is in how care is delivered or at research or other levels. For example, most research is performed without taking into account economic variables on the front end.

What is the heart health conversation you’d like to have with those who are fortunate enough to have access to quality healthcare?

Regardless of how much money you have, one in two people will die of heart disease. Heart disease will not discriminate if you have poor health behaviors or your risk factors are not within optimal ranges, regardless of your financial security. Additionally, even if you are financially comfortable, your ecosystem is still tied to the lives of the less advantaged. Therefore, it is critically important for you to become involved in lifting others up through volunteering, mentoring, advocacy, etc. Those activities can actually help your heart health.

Is there a looming threat on the horizon that the AHA is gearing up to address — something likely to get worse before it gets better?

First, the widening wealth gap and the economics of health. That is a big challenge that all organizations, including the AHA must deal with as it focuses on health equity. Second, the cardiovascular health effects of the environment. By environment, I mean anything from neighborhoods with a lack of healthy food choices to pollution to what we see happening with our oceans and storms. So my answer is the “Two E’s”…Economics and the Environment. 

In 2022, Michelle A. Albert became the 86th president of the American Heart Association. A revered thought-leader in cardiovascular health, she is the first woman of color to serve in this position. We caught up with her to discuss the experiences and perspectives she brings to the role, and some of the heart-health issues that we don’t always think about, but should.

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