UAB’s Donna Arnett becomes first epidemiologist to lead AHA

Arnett is the fifth UAB faculty member installed as president of the American Heart Association.

For the fifth time, a University of Alabama at Birmingham faculty member has been named president of the American Heart Association, the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke.

Donna Arnett, Ph.D., MSPH, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology in the UAB School of Public Health, is the first epidemiologist to lead the AHA, and the second Ph.D. in that position.

“The AHA has embraced a large variety of disciplines in terms of presidential positions; I am delighted to bring my background in cardiovascular epidemiology to such a fantastic organization and to serve in this role,” Arnett says.

“We are very proud and excited that Dr. Arnett will be leading the national effort to improve heart health, providing the outstanding expertise and vision that have enabled her to accomplish so much at the community, state and regional level,” says UAB President Carol Garrison. “As the first epidemiologist named president of AHA, she continues to enhance the reputation of her department and to demonstrate — along with a number of our other faculty serving in such prestigious posts — UAB’s national and international leadership role in healthcare.”

“Since joining the School of Public Health as chair of the Department of Epidemiology, Donna Arnett has rapidly emerged as an energetic, visionary and highly intuitive leader, leading the Department to national prominence,” says Max Michael, M.D., dean of the UAB School of Public Health. “As President of the AHA, she will assure that the heart health needs of everyone are embraced with wisdom and compassion.”

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Arnett’s term as president begins on July 1, 2012, and continues through June 30, 2013. As president, Arnett will serve as the leader of the scientific programs and spokesperson for the AHA. This includes working with media throughout the United States to highlight the organization’s programs and mission. She will also present a presidential address at the annual Scientific Sessions meeting in November.

“I want to bring an awareness of the importance of health for all Americans to all Americans and I know that sounds like an audacious goal,” explains Arnett. “But the AHA has a legacy of not only bringing the best cardiovascular and stroke care to patients, but also to building awareness of the importance of preventing disease.”

Arnett says movements like the AHA’s Go Red for Women campaign, which aims to bring awareness to women that heart disease is their number one killer, are platforms that she hopes to continue to build on.

“I want to find ways to engage people that health is a resource just like our planet and we have to preserve it by starting early and making small incremental changes toward better health,” says Arnett.

Arnett has been a volunteer with the AHA since 1991. She is the immediate past president of the Greater Southeast Affiliate of the AHA, representing Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Arnett has also been the chair of the AHA national research committee and recently served as chair of the scientific publishing committee.

Arnett earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s of public health degree in biostatistics and epidemiology from the University of South Florida. She received her doctoral degree in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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