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Helping Hearts Stay Healthy Drives SLU Nursing Researcher


For Saint Louis University researcher Devita Stallings, Ph.D., RN, improving the heart health of St. Louis communities drives her research, teaching and outreach to others.

Devita Stallings, Ph.D., RN, associate professor of nursing in the Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing stands before the school's heritage wall in front of a photo of its first African-American graduate.

Devita Stallings, Ph.D., RN, works to keep hearts healthy in underrepresented communities through her teaching, research and service. Photo by Amelia Flood

In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, and can happen at any age. Roughly half of Americans have one of the top three risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.

As part of February’s American Heart Month activities, Stallings has led “Hands Only” CPR trainings for local groups including the Archonettes of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated; Xi Zeta Chapter; and for students and their families at Carr Lane Visual and Performing Arts Middle School as part of the school’s “Paying Kindness Forward through Math and Science (STEM)” event.

Hands Only CPR teaches a person that utilizing a two-step process – calling 911 and administering hard, fast chest compressions until help arrives – can double or triple the survival rate of a teen or adult suffering from a cardiac arrest in community settings.

Devita Stallings, Ph.D., RN (right) leads students through a Hands Only CPR Training as the students position themselves above CPR dummies.
Devita Stallings, Ph.D., RN (right) talks members of the  Archonettes of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority through a Hands Only CPR training session as part of American Heart Month. Submitted photo

Stallings became involved in the Hands Only trainings as a volunteer with the American Heart Association (AHA). Over the past seven years, she has also offered the trainings throughout the St. Louis region, including at the 2019 Hands Only Mobile CPR tour sponsored by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and the AHA at Panera Bread’s Support Center.

Her experiences as a former emergency department nurse led her to teaching others how to help in cardiac crisis situation, she said.

“My ‘why’ for doing this work is that every person regardless of race or ethnicity, age or socioeconomic conditions deserves to live the healthiest life possible,” Stallings said. “Many populations are misunderstood or not completely understood when it comes to the choices that they make when it comes to health. My goal is to meet people where they are and partner with them to make heart healthy choices.”

Her research focuses on self-management behaviors of cardiovascular diseases in minority populations. As part of her work, Stallings has conducted research on physical activity and diet behaviors in African Americans with hypertension, and she is cultivating a growing interest in older adult populations.

Recently, she conducted a pilot study exploring sleep and physical activity in African American community-dwelling older adults with hypertension. Her work aims to improve the self-management behaviors and quality of life of minority populations with cardiovascular diseases.

Stallings also serves on the local board of the AHA, the National Emergency Cardiovascular Care Committee, and the AHA’s Research Funding Subcommittee. She has received several honors and awards for her work, including being named a finalist for 2018’s Excellence in Nursing Award by St. Louis Magazine.

My goal is to meet people where they are and partner with them to make heart healthy choices.”

Devita Stallings, Ph.D., RN

As an associate professor in the Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing, Stallings draws her students into her outreach work, enlisting nursing students to help with community blood pressure screenings, education sessions and training events. Stallings has also spearheaded the school’s involvement with the Million Hearts Training Certification program, a national initiative which aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2022.

Through the Million Hearts program, undergraduate nursing students receive training, conduct education and heart disease screenings on community residents, and enter their data in the Million Hearts database, earning certification as Million Hearts Fellows in the process.

“Whenever there is an opportunity, I continue to invite students to assist me with community projects,” Stallings explained. Involving students in her work is one way she sees her teaching, research and outreach as advancing SLU’s Jesuit mission and values beyond campus bounds.

“My work centers on service to humanity and being men and women for and with others,” she said. “I am interested in and serve the whole person, which is the essence of ‘cura personalis.’”

“When I work with people in community settings for my research and through service, I am always interested in gaining perspectives of what their life if like on a daily basis and how their personal situations influence their health and health choices,” Stallings said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 as the “Year of the Nurse and Nurse Midwives,” in order to highlight the need for increased numbers of nurses and midwives worldwide. As part of the year’s celebrations, and to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of famed nursing advocate Florence Nightingale, the University is telling the stories of SLU nurses who impact communities on and beyond campus through their teaching, outreach and research in a limited special series.

Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications