Women Making a Difference in Health

Dr. Naa-Solo Tettey Touching Hearts and Saving Lives

Dr. Naa-Solo Tettey knew from a very young age that her passion is in helping people. Whether she is working with students as a professor, educating community members through the HeartSmarts program, or just spending time with family and friends, it is clear that her goal is to always empower others to believe in themselves and strive for greatness.

On any given day, Dr. Tettey can be found thinking of creative strategies to get people motivated to make positive health behavior changes. “As an African woman, it troubles me deeply to see members of my community falling sick to ailments that can be prevented by simple changes in lifestyle and behavior,” said Tettey,  “People of African origin suffer disproportionately from hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.  Communities are not equipped to take care of these problems, and this lack of resources is leading to an increase in health disparities.”

Dr. Naa-Solo Tettey is an assistant professor of public health at William Paterson University. She is also the creator of the HeartSmarts faith-based cardiovascular health education program sponsored by New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. She considers herself a life-long learner and has completed a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, a Master of Arts degree in clinical psychology, a Master of Public Health degree, and an MBA in health care administration. In addition to this, she also holds a doctorate in health and behavior studies with a concentration in health education from Columbia University.

Growing up in the predominantly African-American town of Roosevelt, New York, Dr. Tettey was able to witness, firsthand, the health disparities that would later become the focus of her work. While studying psychology at Northeastern University, she learned how systematic and widespread the health problems of poor and minority communities are. “I discovered many disturbing facts dealing with minorities and mental health. I learned that minorities in America face severe economic, cultural, linguistic, and physical barriers for treatment of mental illness, difficulties that prevent thousands from being properly treated. I knew that I wanted to give a voice to these issues” said Tettey.

It was not until Dr. Tettey was completing her internship for her master’s degree in psychology at Columbia University that she realized she could be a catalyst for change through public health. “I was working in an obesity research clinic as a counselor and I observed that there was not just one reason why these individuals were suffering from obesity. Many of my clients were from Harlem and they would share with me that they had a difficult time finding quality healthy food or adequate places to exercise in their neighborhoods. These various social determinants were also contributing to their poor health” shared Tettey. “I realized that no matter how effective the counseling treatment was, these individuals could not make lasting changes if the communities where they lived were not able to provide the resources they needed.”

It was after this experience that Dr. Tettey transitioned into public health research and health education. She worked at Yale University on various obesity prevention initiatives including the New York City Calorie Posting campaign. From there, through her role as coordinator of cardiovascular health education at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute of New York Presbyterian Hospital\Weill Cornell Medical Center, she went on to develop various faith-based health education initiatives, including the HeartSmarts program.

Today, Dr. Tettey is considered an expert in the area of faith-based health education initiatives. The HeartSmarts program, which she created in partnership with Dr. Holly Andersen and Dr. Carla Boutin-Foster, aims to provide much needed education regarding cardiovascular health to at-risk populations. According to Dr. Tettey, “faith-based organizations have proven to be effective in spreading health messages and creating positive health behavior changes. Those who have participated in the HeartSmarts program have seen positive results. They have lost weight, decreased their blood pressure, increased their level of exercise, improved their diets, and increased their knowledge of heart disease and its prevention.”

Due to its effectiveness in improving health outcomes and increasing awareness regarding heart disease, HeartSmarts has been recognized as a model faith-based health program. As a result of this work, Dr. Tettey was awarded the Outstanding Innovations in Community and Health Education Award at the 5th Annual Health Disparities Conference at Columbia University. When asked why she believes the HeartSmarts program has been so effective, Dr. Tettey stated, “HeartSmarts teaches people, through the use of scripture, that they can be in control of their health.

Oftentimes, when people hear terms like diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension they become afraid and rather not discuss it. Through the HeartSmarts program, people are able to learn about their health in a supportive environment using a curriculum that is culturally relevant and appropriate. They finish the program feeling inspired and empowered to not only help themselves, but to spread the message to their friends, families, and communities.”

It is clear that Dr. Naa-Solo Tettey is a star on the rise who has already had many notable accomplishments. Her intelligence and humility shine through her bright, welcoming smile. In reflecting on her journey so far, Dr Tettey shared, “it brings me joy to know that I have had a positive impact on the lives of so many. As we celebrate women’s history month, I am aware that I stand on the shoulders of great women who have taught and encouraged me to be my best self. My hope is that I will continue to do the same for others.”

Dr. Tettey currently resides in New York City and lectures nationally about various topics including health disparities, cardiovascular health, and culturally tailored wellness programs. For more information about the HeartSmarts program, she can be contacted at nat9034@nyp.org or 212-746-0484.