Health sciences students focus on the heart at University’s free community health fair
by Luanne Williams

Nearly 200 Wingate health science students will join local medical professionals to share their expertise Feb. 16 at the University’s second annual Health and Wellness Fair, this year going by the moniker “An Affair of the Heart.”

Like last year’s event, which served more than 300 area residents, this year’s fair will be held at the Union County Agricultural Center and is free of charge.

New features will include a giant inflatable heart that guests can walk through to learn about cardiac health and several mobile units that will augment the 70-plus wellness booths set up inside the center. The University’s own mobile unit – donated by Atrium Health and upfitted via funding from Foundation for a Healthy Carolina and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina – will make its debut at the fair.

Leaders in Wingate’s health science programs – pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant and nursing – say the event will offer students valuable opportunities to work together.

“I am excited to have the various disciplines have more interaction and collaboration this year,” says Becky Bliss, an assistant physical therapy professor. “Booth topics will be placed together – diabetic education with diabetic foot screens, and so forth – to allow for experiential, interprofessional education.”

Two female pharmacy students help a young boy with an activity to teach him about the dangers of vaping.

Pharmacy students will operate at least a dozen booths addressing topics such as over-the-counter-medication safety, flu prevention, Alzheimer’s disease, and breast and ovarian cancer. They will also offer blood-pressure checks.

Posture, balance, body ergonomics and backpack safety are among more than a half-dozen topics that will be addressed by physical therapy students, who will also perform diabetic foot screenings.

Future nurses will put their nutrition training to work helping students create healthy snacks and fruit water and will man booths where participants can make stress balls and first-aid kits. Nearby, physician assistants in training will teach children about the body, offer oral health screenings and help with patient education.

Health-fair visitors who pre-register will be able to take advantage of screenings such as body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose and diabetes risk (A1C). They can also sign up to donate blood.

A male physical therapy student helps a young girl adjust her backpack to prevent back injuries.

Free snacks, raffles and giveaways, and demonstrations of zumba and yoga will also be part of the fair, an event that Carolyn Ford, the University’s director of community healthcare outreach, believes will have an impact on hundreds of lives.

Exit surveys from last year’s fair showed that 68 percent of respondents planned to make health-related changes as a result of the event. Over 35 percent said they learned about community resources they weren’t previously aware of.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart-disease rates in North Carolina are higher than the national average. Rates are higher among men, among those who live in rural areas and among those who are less educated and lower-wage earners. The need to improve the community’s cardiac health inspired fair organizers to focus on the heart this year and to bring the giant Mega Heart to the event.

“Our heart is one of the most fascinating organs in the body. We can feel it pumping away, but most people don’t really understand what’s going on,” Ford said. “Imagine the excitement and wonder of having a window inside the body that allows us to learn about the functioning of the heart and how to best take care of ourselves.”

Atrium Health provided the Mega Heart exhibit, which will also be used on campus the day before the health fair, when several hundred local middle school students will tour the inflatable organ and attend a small health fair of sorts led by University students.

Joining Wingate to offer the public health fair on Feb. 16 are Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Novant Health and Atrium. Other sponsors include AmerisourceBergen, Harris Teeter Pharmacy, Community Health Services of Union County, Union County Public Health and the Union County Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension.

All of the fair’s activities are free of charge. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 3230 Presson Road, Monroe.