Tune in to Focus Carolina during morning, noon and evening drive times and on the weekends to hear stories from faculty members at UNC and find out what ignites their passion for their work. Focus Carolina is an exclusive program on 97.9 The Hill WCHL, sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Cheryl Giscombé from the UNC School of Nursing leads initiatives that helps nurses themselves take steps to reduce stress.

Dr. Giscombé, who has been a Tar Heel since birth, is interested in health disparities, which are different rates of adverse health conditions in particular groups.

“My research specifically focuses on understanding how to measure stress and how to develop interventions that are going to help people manage stress in their lives,” Giscombé said.

Dr. Giscombé said she initially started this research after working with her doctoral mentor, who studied the role of stress and preterm birth and low birth weight in women.

“I learned when I worked with her that African American women have twice the rate of low birth weight, preterm delivery in infant mortality compared to white women. And I was really interested in why and some of the things we wouldn’t normally think about like limited access to healthcare or being uninsured or other things such as that.

“More researchers were starting to look at stress, but the more I learned about that, the more I learned that stress is also a factor in other disparities such as overweight, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And so I really became interested in how do we help people cope with stress so they can have better health outcomes?”

Dr. Giscombé said she often came across a concept of women presenting an image of strength and how they had to prioritize giving care over their own self care.

“That often prevented them really from feeling comfortable, accepting help from others or feeling comfortable sharing their vulnerabilities with others for fear that they will be perceived as weak or for fear that people would take advantage of them.

“This notion of being obligated to present an image of strength and it allowed me to develop a framework that included five characteristics of what we call Superwoman Schema. The five characteristics are perceived obligation to present an image of strength, perceived obligation to suppress emotions, perceived obligation or resistance to accepting help from others or showing vulnerability, motivation to succeed despite limited resources and prioritization of care giving over self care.”

Listen to part one of the interview with Dr. Giscombe:

Much of the progress Dr. Giscombé and her team is making comes with the generous help of the Melissa LeVine family, a graduate of the UNC School of Nursing.

LeVine and her husband have been contributing funds to the school of nursing for several years to promote health among the nursing faculty.

“We know that nurses are the largest healthcare workforce,” Dr. Giscombé said. “And so what nurses do, how nurses care for themselves, how nurses experienced their everyday work impacts the health of our nation and our world.

Through donations from the LeVine family, the UNC School of Nursing has been able to create a wellness center, organize mindfulness classes and bring guest speakers to talk about burnout prevention.

Dr. Giscombé had the opportunity to take students from the school of nursing on a trip to Australia to study health care abroad.

“They have a public healthcare system, but they also have a private healthcare system. So you’ll have one hospital that has public and private.

So for elective procedures, the wait is longer and that’s private. For people who can afford private insurance, they can get all their care privately, but everyone has access to the public care.”

Featured image via UNC School of Nursing

Listen to part two of the interview with Dr. Giscombe: