Dr. Debra Rose Wilson shares the values of volunteerism and self-care.

By Camille LeFevre
July 2014

Dr. Debra Rose Wilson
Dr. Debra Rose Wilson

Social change is at the heart of Dr. Debra Rose Wilson’s work. Whether she’s educating nurses in Botswana about the value of self-care, speaking to a room of nurses at an international conference, or positively impacting students in the School of Psychology or at Middle Tennessee State University, she is always focused on how she can influence others to positively change their own lives and the lives of those around them. Here, Wilson talks about creating an inspiring learning environment and the importance of self-care.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK IN BOTSWANA. While a visiting scholar in Botswana in 2010, I came to realize there was a shortage of nurses due to a lack of pride in nursing. Leaders in national nursing organizations wanted to improve nurses’ self-esteem. I taught a group of nurses stress-management techniques, the importance of nursing pride, and what it means to be called to nursing. When I returned home, I purchased brass pins in the U.S. that say “I’m proud to be a nurse.” My students boxed them up and sent them to Botswana—one for every nurse in the country. We watched as those pin-wearers became champions of nursing in their districts.

HOW ELSE DO YOU HELP YOUR STUDENTS FEEL CHALLENGED AND INSPIRED? I’m always integrating the value of social change into our work. During residencies, I talk to students about the role of a health psychologist. I share tools for self-care so they learn how to share these tools with their patients, colleagues, and families. As a researcher and scholar, I encourage them to collect evaluation data while conducting projects and encourage them to submit papers to the International Journal of Childbirth Education, which I edit. Making opportunities available and watching students grow is exciting. I’m continually instilling the value of social change in my students because I live it.

WHY IS STRESS THE NO. 1 HEALTH RISK? Stress can be an underlying cause of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity—you name it. Addressing stress is the first place to start, whether you want to improve your health or your professional or personal relationships.

WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO MANAGING STRESS? Once you’re aware of stress, it’s easier to change your response patterns. I have about 100 techniques I draw from, but here are three basic responses. One is to choose not to participate in the activity that’s causing the stress. The second is to change your perception of the stressor: How could you make a stressful event more manageable or even enjoyable? The third is to change your biological response. Try meditation, exercise, massage, or relaxation. Do whatever it takes to manage your emotional response. It will improve your career—and your life.

Dr. Debra Rose Wilson ’06 is a School of Psychology faculty member, a Ph.D. in Psychology graduate, the 2013 Presidential Award for Faculty Excellence recipient, and a 2012 Scholar of Change.