Her Heart is in Helping Others

Sandy Charles, MD, found purpose in women’s health advocacy

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an increased focus on improving health equity in our communities. For Sandy Charles, MD, however, that objective has been top of mind her whole life.

Charles is the medical director at Novant Health Women’s Heart & Vascular Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a noninvasive cardiologist, she uses imaging and other technology to help women manage their risk of heart disease and other conditions.

She was inspired to pursue medicine by her upbringing.

Her parents were Haitian immigrants who met in Brooklyn, New York which was where Charles was born and raised. It was in that diverse environment where she witnessed the impact of cardiovascular disease firsthand.

“My grandmother had diabetes and high blood pressure, and she had a hard time trusting her doctors,” Charles said. “She felt like she didn’t connect with them. They didn’t take the time to explain the medications and why they were important.”

While she observed these scenarios in the community, Charles also developed interests in science and math, as well as a mission that would drive her career.

“Above all else, I really loved connecting and partnering with people to help them really engage in their care and take the best care of themselves,” Charles said.

Healthcare ran in the family, too. Charles’ mother was a nurse, and she would tell her touching stories about interactions with patients. Eventually, Charles realized medicine was not only about treatment; it was a powerful opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of others, especially women.

There were also very, very few women cardiologists,” Charles said. “Around 12% of cardiologists are women, and, oftentimes, women just feel more comfortable talking to women. So I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to go in the field and be an advocate for women’s heart health and disparities in heart health.”

Charles attended Princeton University for her undergraduate degree in molecular biology and then went on to Columbia University for medical school. After completing a cardiology fellowship, she and her husband decided to move to Charlotte, and Charles applied for a job at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

“It’s been an amazing journey, being welcomed with open arms, spearheading the women’s heart program and just really having an impact,” Charles said.

The social justice movement is another area in which Charles has worked to make an impact, both through community outreach and social media. She has been involved with Novant Health’s Physician Ambassador program, in which doctors venture out into the community to raise awareness and offer screenings. Charles is grateful to have the ability to serve all walks of life in her work.

“This year, Novant Health was very vocal about standing up for social justice, which was encouraging.” Charles said. “It was great to know I’m part of an institution that supports it and has a very diverse administrative and executive staff. I’ve always felt like I’ve had not only a voice but support as well.”

Not only are we advocates for diversity, inclusion and health equity but also for supporting our team members in their efforts to provide remarkable care. Because of generous donations to Novant Health Foundation, we were able to step up and support Charles and the noninvasive imaging team. This fall, your donations funded ergonomic workstations, including standing desks, to allow team members who spend up to eight hours a day reviewing imaging and studies the opportunity to stand up while they work, which minimizes neck and back strain.

“When I heard the news, I was walking on cloud nine for a couple days,” Charles said. “Having the ability to stand and shift positions is wonderful. I can be as thorough with my work without compromising my health. I really appreciate it.”

The renovation came at a time when mobility is crucial, since COVID-19 has complicated exercise routines. Charles encourages those at home to find ways to move around for 30 minutes a day, five days a week to decrease the risk of heart disease.

“I would tell people that where there’s a will, there is a way,” Charles said. “There are so many things we can do to combat being sedentary. For me, it’s taking breaks to go on walks.”

This time of year, Charles is also feeling grateful for her family and the ability to serve the community.

“Though the pandemic has affected our social interactions, I find comfort in spending quality time with my family,” Charles said.

Today, you can help support Novant Health team members like Sandy Charles in their mission to provide remarkable care to those in need.

By giving to the Novant Health Foundation, you make a direct impact on the health and well-being of individuals in your area. Make your gift today.

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