Skip Navigation

Public Affairs & Media Relations

Deborah Williamson

Photo of Deborah Williamson, DHADeborah Williamson, DHA

Associate Dean for Practice
Associate Professor in the College of Nursing

Specialties: Community based participatory action while predominantly working with the Hispanic community

It just kind of clicked and I realized that I was interested in health care, but also in policies and politics. It seemed to me that healthcare was a way to be able to make changes in communities.

A school bus ride turned into the realization of a calling for associate dean for Practice and associate professor in the College of Nursing, Deborah Williamson, DHA. While attending Duke University, Williamson met a nursing student on a bus ride to campus and as a result of their conversation, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in healthcare.

“It just kind of clicked and I realized that I was interested in healthcare, but also in policies and politics. It seemed to me that healthcare was a way to be able to make changes in communities.”

Since then, Williamson’s passion for health care and community improvement has positively affected countless individuals. Aside from serving as a nurse-midwife for 28 years, Williamson also been coordinator for the Community Education Program at the University of North Carolina, a public health nurse in Rochester, New York and the director of faculty practice at the MUSC College of Nursing.

With a focus on community based participatory action and research, Williamson visits various communities in the Charleston area to find out what residents feel are the best solutions for their health issues. She predominantly works with the Hispanic community as well as those in North Charleston and on John’s Island. Williamson is also interested in developing a more diverse healthcare workforce and establishing policies that will aid the community.
“It comes down to asking the question, how can we leverage resources and build systems that support healthier communities. Resources are there. The capacity is there.”  

Williamson oversees several community projects including the Teen Health Leadership Project and the Abrazos program.

The Teen Health Leadership Project is a collaboration between the MUSC College of Nursing and St. John’s High School. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the purpose of the program is to increase health information literacy among teens, their families and the residents of John’s Island.  Students learn to identify reliable health websites, research the most compelling health concerns in their community and create community outreach programs. Students then have the opportunity to present their projects to the staff of the National Library of Medicine.   

“The Teen Health Leadership Project has been a great experience. I love working with students. I love their energy, the way they look at things and the potential futures I see in working with them. The program is a way of getting students involved in what’s going on in their own community”

Another program Williamson directs, Abrazos, which means hugs in Spanish, is a partnership with the Charleston County School District. It was created to help Hispanic mothers develop proficiency in English while allowing their children to participate in an early childhood development class. The program also provides a health promotion class, which gives women information about the health care system, how to access it, questions to ask physicians as well as assistance in navigating resources. There are also parenting and women’s health components.

“We saw the Abrazos program as an opportunity to help people get their feet on the ground and help their kids succeed in school. It started out with a coalition of two other community nonprofits, and as we got it off the ground, the school district agreed to take on the major role. Now it’s a part of their early childhood development program.”

Williamson said her ultimate goal is to promote community self-sufficiency, and to her that means building self-reliance and empowerment. It’s about reaching as many people as possible she said.

“I loved my work as a nurse-midwife. I loved working at the individual patient level, but at a certain point in time you realize that although the individual patient level is really important because it creates your soul and drives where you go from there, we have to move up to the next level. That’s systems and policies. As we look around, we have to ask what kinds of policies and system changes are going to make a difference. “


  Related Video

Dr. Williamson
Deborah Williamson, DHA

Related Stories >>

Initiative brings public resources to immigrants

Community Nurse receives award

Featured Expert Archives >>

Resources >>

MUSC College of Nursing

MUSC Nursing Community Programs

Hispanic Health Initiative (HHI)

MUSC Abrazos

Abrazos - Charleston County School District


Teen Health Leadership Program

MUSC News Center archives



©  Medical University of South Carolina | Disclaimer