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Looking Beyond the Diagnosis: U. of U. Nursing Professor Seeks Grassroots Approach to Health Care

Feeling frustrated, scared, and alone, Sara Hart once tried to leave the nursing profession. Instead, Hart, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Nursing, got curious, dove deep and is now changing healthcare for the better. “These are human beings and our professions can get overly focused on disease,” Hart said. “Instead of focusing on the person, all we see is a diagnosis and want to treat it and move on.”

Hart’s curiosity and dedication have paid off. She was named a Gold Humanism Scholar at the Harvard Macy Institute, a distinguished honor where she will receive leadership training to transform her ideals into reality.

Her curiosity began during her undergraduate studies at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. She observed an elderly woman living alone in a community that didn’t have public transportation and without access to preventative care, receive acute care again and again. “I felt a sense of real frustration and curiosity- why is it this way? The problem I saw and continue to see is a lack of integration. We spend a lot of time and money treating human disease and don’t spend much on human health.”

Heart Se Office

That was a pivotal moment. The daughter of a nurse, Hart went on to earn her master’s degree and PhD in public health at the University of Maryland, and worked for the U. S. Surgeon General. Hart and her husband, Edward Hart, M.D., a pathologist at the University, are from the Midwest and have two young children.

Hart seeks a systems-level intervention for better health, and collaboration for positive change in policy and legislation. “If the structure of healthcare delivery had a broader lens— keeping people healthy, managing chronic disease, we could flip our work so the majority of work is keeping people healthy instead of just intervening in crisis.”

Hart hopes to inspire an inter-professional approach where students ask, ‘Who is the patient? What does her world look like?’ 

“We bring patients into the hospital, we take off their clothes, we segregate them from their families,” Hart said. “We take away their identities. We need to ask, ‘What drove the patient’s experience? Was she unable to access early intervention? Does she have the literacy skills to get the care she needs?’”

For Hart, it’s a whole-person approach to patient care that extends to the community. She’s happiest guiding students to seek positive changes in healthcare, one patient at a time.

“When they can see the human being underneath the patient, everyone is better off.”