Faculty profile: Dr. Debbie Isaacson keeps WU students safe with handmade masks


Journie Davis

Need a mask? Dr. Debbie Isaacson standing with student media staff Anna-Marie Lauppe (left) and Eric Patterson (right). All three are wearing some of Dr. Isaacson’s handmade masks.

What if your goal was to be able to stop? While this might not make much sense in times where we know we have to keep going; Dr. Debbie Isaacson is proving that when it comes to COVID, it’s a pretty good goal to be able to stop.
Dr. Isaacson has been working at Washburn for 22 years so far with a continuous goal to help those around her. It’s no wonder that this passion has come hand in hand with her kindness to help slow the spread of COVID through the use of her hand-made masks.
Before getting into the method behind the mask, Issacson shared what brought her here to Washburn and her story in becoming a nurse which she hopes can inspire Washburn students looking to go to nursing school themselves.
Isaacson’s journey to become a nurse wasn’t completely smooth sailing. Through her belief of preservation she ended up securing her nursing degree and finding a job here at Washburn so that she can keep helping others in the Allied Health Center and beyond.
“I realized I needed a 4.0 to go to the nursing program and I was getting a C in anatomy as many students do,” said Isaacson. “So, I decided that I couldn’t be a nurse. I changed my major and went to K state for a year and decided I really did want to be a nurse. I ended up at Fort Hays, and I went there. I didn’t even know Washburn had a nursing program back then, so I went to Fort Hays and got my nursing degree. Then right out of college, my husband got a job in Topeka. So, we’ve been here for at least 30 years now.”
Debbie now works with all of the faculty that teaches at the school of nursing. She coordinates all of the student issues and refers to herself as a “problem solver”. While her job is mostly administrative, she also helps form the catalog which includes writing and checking over policies.
“I teach an elective called stress management for nurses, that even helps me out,” said Isaacson. “It’s a fun class. Then I just help out in labs, and we have simulation, and I help out with that.”
While one of her roles isn’t something she’s asked to do, it comes naturally to Dr. Isaacson. Helping others is one of the traits that’s required to be a nurse, and this shows through her support of the students.
“It’s my favorite part, especially when you really see them struggling because I understand what it was like to struggle in school,” Isaacson said. “I feel like I have a lot of empathy for that and I can find ways to help them.”
Dr. Debbie’s perseverance is shown through a simple yet a powerful tool in the world we’re in today: masks. These masks play an important role in our everyday lives until we can secure a safer environment in the ongoing pandemic. Her process of making masks is quite simple.
She starts by gathering fabrics and some of the fabrics are even recycled from old scrubs she gathers from her nursing friends. She explained how she found a video on YouTube for how to make masks and shortly figured out how to replicate the process.
“So last March, when everything kind of shut down, I made the type of mask… it’s like a fan fold,” said Isaacson. “They’re pretty simple. I make quilts so I know how to sew, and that’s kind of my stress reliever.”
Dr. Debbie has made hundreds of masks as her rough estimate and she’ll keep making them until the day she doesn’t have to anymore. Her goal is to stop, to keep preventing spread until masks are a thing of the past.
“So, I probably make 10 a week but I’ve made even more than that,” said Isaacson. “I just have been making them as people ask me to and I’ve used up a lot of just leftover quilt fabric that I had!”
Junior nursing student Reagan Dalke works as a nursing lab assistant in Petro and met Dr. Isaacson through the nursing program. Dalke, like many other students, thrives off of Dr. Isaacson’s inspiring perseverance through tough times.
“I really admire her perseverance; she has really just been trying to help in all ways possible,” said Dalke. “I just want to say that I really appreciate Dr. Isaacson going out of her way to help students like me. She still comes to nursing school classes to talk with students and really get to know everybody. I really appreciate that.”
Dalke and all the nursing students know firsthand the importance of masks. Dalke was asked how Dr. Isaacson’s mask compared to others as she has struggled with finding the right mask for the pandemic.
“I really liked them,” said Dalke. “They fit a lot better and they don’t get in your mouth as easily. They’re much more away from my face. Also, with CDC saying it’s better than double masks, you can actually fit a second mask or filter in a slot. So, you can actually double mask with these, and it still doesn’t go in your mouth while being comfortable.”
Dr. Debbie’s final words of advice to students in these trying times and even for years to come is to just keep going.
“Persevere through their studies and make sure that they know that this will end,” said Isaacson. “We miss students, and we want people back on campus. Really the only way to do it is to continue trying.”
If students or staff want to contact Dr. Debbie about the mask, her email is listed below.
[email protected]
Edited by: Matthew L. Self, Crystal Hendrix, Katrina Johnson