Care and Compassion: AIDS Nurse Adele Webb

AIDS Nurse Adele Webb

It was a defining moment in her career. Adele Webb, PhD, RN, DPNAP, FAAN, president of Chamberlain’s Cleveland campus, was working as a pediatric emergency room nurse in Akron, Ohio. It was the 1980s, during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and a child who was infected came in to the emergency room.

“The response of the nurses was fascinating to me – it was fear and judgment and prejudice. I thought, how sad. If you’re going to care for people, you don’t judge them – you meet their needs. How they got in that situation doesn’t matter,” she said. “The fact is, they need someone to care for them. I realized that I can be that person.”

Webb’s new interest in AIDS nursing led her to Detroit, and then eventually to Africa, where she spent significant time in Swaziland, South Africa, Lesotho and Botswana, educating nurses about HIV and caring for patients who were infected.

Nursing may have taken Webb halfway around the world, but the inspiration for her career came from a source closer to home.

As the oldest of 11 children, she was raised by her grandmother – a former teacher whom Webb describes as her biggest influence. She spent a lot of time caring for her younger siblings, and when her grandmother became ill, Webb would go to school for half a day and then come home and care of her in the afternoon.

“I just found that I really liked taking care of people,” she said. “It was rewarding – I felt like I was doing something that had real value. I started to look for something that would put me in that kind of situation for the rest of my life. That’s why I chose nursing.”

But a career in nursing didn’t happen right away for her. Webb married at 17 and had three children by her early 20s. It wasn’t until the youngest was five years old that she enrolled in nursing school.

From there, it was full steam ahead – Webb went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and PhD in nursing, all within 10 years. While in graduate school, she kept her skills sharp by working in a NICU and pediatric ER.

Along the way, she learned a thing or two about balancing school, work and family – advice that she shares with students today as president of Chamberlain College of Nursing’s Cleveland campus.

“We have students who say, this is harder than I thought it would be and it’s taking more time than I thought it would take,” she explained. “What I say to students is that everybody has the same amount of time – 168 hours in a week. You have to decide how you’re going to spend those hours. You need to be able to manage your time to meet your priorities.”

These days, she balances work with travel and spending time with her 11 grandchildren. A firm believer in the value of a global perspective, she takes her grandchildren for a trip anywhere in the U.S. that they want for their 10th birthday. When they turn 16, she takes them anywhere in the world.

Of all that she’s accomplished, Webb is most proud of the fact that her daughter and granddaughter are both in nursing school, following in her footsteps.

“It means so much to me that their observation of me as a nurse somehow influenced their decision to become nurses, too.”

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