Focus Carolina

Focus on Cheryl Giscombé

Her research focuses on understanding how to measure stress and how to develop interventions that help people manage stress.

Cheryl Giscombe (Submitted photo)

Cheryl Giscombé, the Melissa and Harry LeVine Family Professor of Quality of Life, Health Promotion and Wellness in Carolina’s School of Nursing, leads initiatives that help nurses help themselves and take steps to reduce stress in their lives. She also studies the impact of stress, especially in African American women.

Giscombé is interested in health disparities, higher rates of adverse health conditions in particular groups compared to others. Her research focuses on understanding how to measure stress and how to develop interventions that help people manage stress. She learned that pregnant African American women have twice the rate of low birth weight pre-term delivery and infant mortality compared to white women.

Some things we would normally think about like limited access to health care or being uninsured or other things such as education, income — those things didn’t explain the disparity, and more researchers were starting to look at stress. I learned that stress is also a factor in other disparities, such as being overweight, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and so I became interested in how do we help people cope with stress so they can have better health outcomes. 

While researching culturally and gender-relevant stress, Giscombé identified five characteristics of what she calls Superwoman Schema: 1) perceived obligations to present an image of strength and 2) to suppress emotions, 3) resistance to accepting help from others or showing vulnerability, 4) motivation to succeed despite limited resources and 5) prioritization of caregiving over self-care.

I chose to call the framework Superwoman Schema because I knew that I’d be interested in examining how it differs, if so, across different groups and why we think that, even though it’s probably common in women, that it may be distinct in African American women and related to how women describe the antecedents to developing these perceived obligations. So they talked about social experiences, such as historical factors that created the kind of roles that black women have.  

 Giscombé also led students on a trip to Australia, where they experienced diversity in a health care system that offers public and private care. Australia’s origins and indigenous population created racial and ethnic diversity, and people from countries including Greece, Italy and Africa are adding to that diversity.

They’re advanced, definitely, but there are also situations where you have hospitals where men and women are in the same room. That was a different thing for our students to see. But the biggest difference is that there is a public health insurance program in Australia.


Every day, Carolina faculty members engage in groundbreaking research, innovative teaching and public service that impacts in our community and the state, nation and the world. Tune in to Focus Carolina during morning, noon and evening drive times and on the weekends to hear their stories and find out what ignites their passion for their work. You can listen to WCHL at 97.9 FM or 1360 AM. The interviews will also be available anytime online at under the Focus Carolina tab.

Focus Carolina is an exclusive program on WCHL, sponsored by the University.



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