Mississippi University for Women’s Debra Rhinewalt, instructor in the baccalaureate nursing program, was named the 2023 Best Nurse in The Commercial Dispatch’s Best of the Triangle.

“To be named the Best Nurse is quite humbling. Through Christ’s calling as a nurse, I have touched and cared for people in a meaningful way, in a way that they remember. Whether using nursing skills, prayerful support or simply sitting quietly at their side during some of the most difficult times they will face, I was a constant for them,” Rhinewalt said.

Rhinewalt knew from a young age, struggling with chronic bronchitis and being in and out of the doctor’s office, that she wanted to be a nurse. Kind words from a nurse in the office telling her she could, “Go to school and get a nurse’s cap of her own,” cemented the desire.

She began her college career and met and married her husband, Edward. Before she could finish her degree, however, life happened. She had two sons. It wouldn’t be until 2008 when Rhinewalt would resume her education and receive her ASN degree from The W.

She went on to work at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle for nine years, and a year at Baptist Home Hospice. She then entered the BSN upgrade program at The W and received her degree in 2015. She also received her master’s degree in 2021, and began teaching at The W in August of that year.

It was during this time that she found her passion, palliative care. Palliative care is caring for someone with a serious illness, mitigating pain and offering emotional support.

“During my nine years of being a palliative care nurse, I came to realize how little people, nurses as well as doctors, seemed to understand that curing a disease is not always possible. I believe they knew this in their hearts but didn’t understand how to communicate this to patients and families. I was able to offer education to the hospital staff on the meaning of palliative care, hospice care and how they differ,” Rhinewalt said.

This made the decision to leave the hospital in favor of teaching a tough one, but she felt it was her calling. She wanted to pass along what she had been helping doctors and nurses to understand to a new generation of health care professionals.

“When God called me into teaching, I did wrestle with the decision because of the patients and families I cared for. However, I came to realize that he wanted me here to be able to share with these young students, the fact that just as healing is a part of nursing care, so is dying. They need to understand that caring for a patient and family during this time requires a different set of skills. Their role of patient/family advocacy is vitally important at this time. In my opinion, communication skills are a necessary part of all nursing care, but communication is the most important component of palliative/hospice nursing care. In today’s world of social media, so many have never developed good communication techniques. I am able to bring a perspective of serious illness and end-of-life care to these students, so hopefully when they are faced with these times, and they will come, they will better be able to handle them,” Rhinewalt said.

She has no plans to stop anytime soon, as she is following her heart and the guidance of the lord.

Rhinewalt said, “My prayer is to see people through Jesus’ eyes, and that he will continue to use me.  Wherever he leads, I’ll go.”

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

Be Bold. Tower with Blue.