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Meet Yale Internal Medicine: Norrisa Haynes, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiovascular Medicine)

May 08, 2023
by Melanie Ho

As part of our “Meet Yale Internal Medicine” series, today’s feature is on Norrisa Haynes, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiovascular Medicine).

Growing up in New Haven, Norrisa Haynes, MD, MPH, attended a high school that neighbored Yale School of Medicine (YSM). Her high school offered students the opportunity to conduct medical research, and she found herself in a cardiovascular medicine lab assisting Lawrence Young, MD, PhD. “That early exposure piqued my interest in cardiology. Not only that but those early mentor-mentee relationships definitely made a difference and led me down this path,” Haynes said.

She also became aware of global health disparities from a young age. “We would travel back and forth to see my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents still in the Caribbean. When you do that a lot, you start to notice differences between the two places. And as my grandparents got older and they had their own health issues, it became obvious that they weren't able to get the care they needed in the Caribbean,” said Haynes.

As an undergraduate at Yale, Haynes served as president of both the Yale Minority Association of Pre-Health Students and the Yale Chapter of the NAACP. Haynes obtained her master’s degree in public health from Harvard. Then, she completed her medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and residency training at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Working out of New York City, she felt it was rewarding to care for patients of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

After finishing her residency, Haynes worked at the Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais as an internist with Partners in Health (PIH) for two years. “There was a lot of heart disease. Hypertension and heart failure were extremely prevalent,” she said. “I realized that there were very few cardiologists in Haiti and that access to cardiologists was limited,” recalled Haynes.

“You had internists, nurses, and general practitioners trying to take care of complex cardiac patients without the formal training, education, or access to the resources that they needed,” said Haynes.

Haynes was a cardiology fellow at the Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) at the University of Pennsylvania when a Haitian resident asked if she could design a cardiovascular medical education (CME) program. She teamed up with her co-fellows and faculty members at PSOM, and they delivered virtual instruction to residents at the PIH hospital in Mirebalais. The courses were hugely popular. Soon, the curriculum became available to all hospitals in Haiti with internal medicine residency programs.

Inspired by her work in Haiti, she founded the global cardiovascular health non-profit Global MedEd with her founding partners. According to their website, Global MedEd “provides equal access to high quality medical education for healthcare professionals in low- and middle-income countries via a dynamic, adaptive, interactive and skill-building digital platform.”

By the end of 2022, Global MedEd had registered 140 internists to receive CME. “What we are piloting now in Haiti is focused on building cardiovascular diagnostic capacity using ultrasound. We hope to scale it to other low-resource settings.”

As Global MedEd was getting off the ground, Haynes also engaged in community outreach in West Philadelphia. Originally a volunteer in PSOM’s long-running Cut Hypertension program, Haynes screened customers for hypertension in black-owned barbershops and hair salons. However, the COVID-19 quarantine forced many of these shops to temporarily close. A PSOM student and Haynes recruited additional students and faculty to form Safe Haircuts As We Reopen Philadelphia (SHARP), a partnership between PSOM and shop owners that “helped refine their plans for safe reopening including initiating a digital symptom and exposure screening survey and educated shop owners about the importance of consistently using personal protective equipment (PPE).” SHARP quickly evolved to meet more pressing needs of the community. They created workshops for writing grant applications to secure PPE, and when the vaccine became readily available, shop owners began to refer people in their networks to get the vaccine.

“SHARP was only tangentially related to cardiology, but with community-based participatory research, you need to address the most pressing needs of the community at the time, which was COVID,” said Haynes.

At Yale, Haynes instructs echocardiography and cardiovascular medicine. She looks forward to joining Erica Spatz, MD, MHS, in overseeing on-site blood pressure management in New Haven barber shops.

Haynes wants to “build community capacity.” According to Haynes, building capacity requires institutions to deal with “the question of how we can provide resources to better your community and not always set the agenda. It is interesting, because both in Haiti and Philadelphia, I didn’t necessarily go to them, but rather someone from those respective communities came to me and said, ‘This is what we need.’”

The Department of Internal Medicine at Yale is among the nation's premier departments, bringing together an elite cadre of clinicians, investigators, educators, and staff in one of the world's top medical schools. To learn more, visit Internal Medicine.

Submitted by Julie Parry on May 08, 2023