The Stella Women Series with Dr Linda Worrall-Carter, CEO and Founder of Her Heart

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When it comes to accessing quality healthcare, nobody understands the unique challenges women face more than Dr Linda Worrall-Carter. With a passion for heart health, and not to mention 15 years of experience in research, she launched Her Heart to bridge the gap in awareness around women’s heart health.

Her Heart has become a first-of-its-kind peak body for women’s heart health. Since launching in 2015, Linda and the Her Heart team have worked tirelessly to increase awareness about the differences in heart health symptoms between men and women.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Linda to learn about her passion for heart health, what it’s like to build a charity from the ground up, and Her Heart’s efforts in ensuring that women receive the healthcare they deserve.

To kick things off, can you give us a quick introduction to yourself and your current role as Founder and CEO of Her Heart? 

“From very early on in my nursing career I was interested in heart disease, I worked clinically in this area, taught in Universities and also researched the area of women and heart disease. But after 15 years of research, I resigned from my position as Professor of Cardiac Nursing at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne.

It’s not well known that in Australia, we currently lose 1 woman every hour to heart disease. That’s over 24 women a day, which is just tragic and so unnecessary.

I decided that in order to change the statistics I needed to become an activist and as there was no dedicated not-for-profit or charity specific for heart disease in women. I asked myself, ‘what was the point of doing all this research if women still have no idea that it’s their biggest killer?’

A more hands-on approach was needed to drive change and create awareness. That’s why Her Heart was launched.”

Why do you believe education and awareness are so important to change health outcomes for women, especially when it comes to heart health?

“Through years of research, I discovered that it’s not just a lack of awareness in the community, there are physiological differences and education around this is limited. Women experience different symptoms than men.

Unlike men, women don’t get the “Hollywood” heart attack with chest pain that goes down their arm. While some women experience chest pain they also complain that this goes up to their jaw, through to their back and shoulder blades, they also experience of shortness of breath and nausea. 

While I thought that I set up Her Heart for the general community, we have found that there’s also a lack of education in the professional community with GPs, doctors and nurses. Often when women ask for help, they don’t always receive it. 

For example, so many women in our community have told us they don’t feel heard, so they have repeatedly gone to their GP, or ended up needing to take themselves to the hospital. Women are also less likely to receive diagnostic tests like angiograms and women’s recovery rates are worse (women are twice as likely to die in their first year after a heart attack). The statistics are always worse for women because they aren’t identified early. 

But you know, it’s not a bad news story. When something is 80% preventable, it becomes about managing risk factors and making lifestyle changes. We need to get heart disease on women’s radars so they’ll be able to make small behaviour changes that can help lower their risk.”

What have been some of your proudest moments and achievements at Her Heart to date?

“I’m proud of the fact that, with absolutely no knowledge of how to set up a charity, I launched Her Heart and made sure we were compliant with all the things required for a national not-for-profit. I signed up for a year long entrepreneur’s course (where I had to travel to Sydney) to learn all aspects of setting up a business and I galvanised a group of supporters to help me. 

In 2019 I was recognised as Telstra Business Woman of the Year which was an amazing experience and before that, in 2015, I was a winner in the Female Entrepreneur Awards. Her Heart also won the Casey Kinnaird Community Award. These awards have been recognition not only for me but for all those who have helped support Her Heart.

When we went global, we had over 5,000 website visitors a month in over 55 countries. That then grew to over 100 countries. People clearly resonated with what we were offering and this has allowed us to build Her Heart into the supportive community it is today.”

What motivates and inspires you to do the work that you do? 

“My inspiration comes back to my early days in nursing. When I was caring for patients in coronary care, I noticed very few women were being cared for and over the course of the years I’ve come to realise why. They died before they got there. 

Now, after years of research, I know the reasons why and believe that it is just not acceptable. We can’t have what is the biggest killer of women not being addressed.

In terms of what motivates me every day, it’s providing a service to our community. When I first set up Her Heart, I received so many messages from women asking for referrals, but it wasn’t sustainable for me to respond to hundreds of messages. So we created our free, online “Find a Female Cardiologist” via the Her Heart Hub. This is one of our top resources and Cardiologists are now referring women to Her Heart, so they are becoming aware of us and our work.

Then after receiving so many queries from women wanting to know how they could tell if they are at risk, we began doing a review of all the risk tools and found there was not one engineered for women. So, we created Australia’s first online risk assessment tool for women (part of our newly launched Premium Membership package), including all risk aspects such as the stages of women’s life like menopause or even pregnancy, which is classed as a “stress test” for women. 

I am especially proud that we actively respond to what women want and need.”

What advice would you give to other women looking to break into the healthcare and research space? 

Being in the healthcare space has been incredibly rewarding, it’s afforded me many career opportunities, from working clinically to teaching nursing and then moving into research, and finally, to creating a national charity!

You won’t always know what’s ahead, so I fell into a research career which ended up being a great opportunity.  I believe that we have some of the best researchers in Australia – for the funding it receives – we really punch above our weight!

Regarding launching a charity and for those who run small businesses, I would say, don’t give up. I was amazed to hear that 95% of start-ups fail in the first 5 years, and in so many ways charities are like start-ups. So I would say to people persistence is the key. 

In terms of a message for other women, I think that there are 3 key things: 

  1. Always say yes to opportunities! I have only ever applied for one job – all the rest I got tapped on the shoulder for and was surprised, so you don’t always know what you are capable of. 
  2. As you move up, drop out the ladder to someone behind you so that you are supporting and mentoring (at least) another woman, hopefully many. 
  3. Believe in yourself. I can’t count the times that someone has approached me about things, like sitting on some major national research committees, that I would never have put up my hand for, as I didn’t think I was good enough!”

What’s next for Her Heart?

“It’s not been an easy time for many charities post-pandemic, and we are no different.  

There are stages in the life cycle of NFPs and small businesses and Her Heart is moving into a new stage in that cycle. 

We’ll keep offering everything we can for women, but I know that we also need to increase our government funding to create large-scale awareness campaigns and offer further resources. 

We have many strengths and one is our partnerships with women-centred businesses, and Stella is a stand-out! We’ve really enjoyed working with Sam White and her team. Sam is our Chair of the Board so we get the expertise of a global thought leader and entrepreneur which is just wonderful!”

Find out more about Linda Worrall-Carter and Her Heart on their website, and stay up to date with Linda on LinkedIn.

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