The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Colleagues remember esteemed Professor Emeritus of Nursing Kenneth A. Wallston

Wallston, renowned nursing psychology researcher and faculty member at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (VUSN), was 78.
Professor Emeritus Kenneth A. Wallston was renowned for his pioneering research in the interdisciplinary field of behavioral medicine. (Vanderbilt University)

Dr. Kenneth A. Wallston, professor emeritus of psychology in nursing and psychology, died on Oct. 27 in Asheville, North Carolina at the age of 78. 

Wallston was a faculty member of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (VUSN) for over 40 years, where he conducted prominent research and work in the interdisciplinary area of behavioral medicine. This field combines behavioral, psychosocial and biomedical science knowledge to better understand health and illness. Wallston is also renowned for his work in developing the Multidimensional Health Locus of Control (MHLC), a group of measures to assess a person’s beliefs regarding internal and external causes of their own health status. 

Named the 2007 Joe B. Wyatt Distinguished University Professor, most of Wallston’s work centered around adaptation to chronic illness, with an emphasis on individual differences that predict health behaviors and status. Beginning in the 1980s, Wallston shifted his studies to focus on rheumatoid arthritis. 

Wallston’s more recent research pertains to examining the psychological, behavioral and physiological effects of writing about past traumatic events. He was also a co-investigator in two studies on diabetes, investigating diabetes numeracy and online education about Type 1 diabetes, respectively. Wallston published hundreds of articles throughout his career and was named fellow by the American Psychological Association and the Society of Behavioral Medicine.

Wallston was a professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Science, as well as a professor of both psychology and human and organizational development in Peabody College. He also taught research and statistics for VUSN’s master’s and doctoral programs. Wallston was a member of the Institute for Medicine and Public Health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), a Kennedy Center member, research associate at the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies and director of the VUSN Health Care Research Project. 

Dr. Russel L. Rothman, professor of internal medicine, pediatrics and health policy, spoke to the impact of Wallston’s work.

“Ken was a wonderful scholar, colleague and friend,” Rothman said. “His work was instrumental in expanding our understanding of social and behavioral determinants of health and still informs research that we do across the Vanderbilt Institute of Medicine and Public Health to improve individual and population health.”

Wallston was born in Stamford, Connecticut and earned his bachelor’s in psychology from Cornell University. He would later earn his master of arts and doctorate in social psychology from the University of Connecticut, and then served several years as assistant professor and researcher at the University of Wisconsin. Wallston joined Vanderbilt in 1971 as assistant professor in the College of Arts and Science and VUSN. He earned full professorship in 1982, going on to serve on a variety of university committees including the Faculty Senate. Wallston retired in 2017, and was appointed professor of nursing, emeritus, continuing his research into retirement.

Dr. Sunil Kripalani, professor of medicine at VUMC, commented on his relationship with Wallston.

“Ken was a dear colleague and friend,” Kripalani said. “We worked together for the last 13 years, studying social and behavioral determinants of health. I learned so much from him, not only about health psychology, but also about mentoring—one of his favorite activities which he continued into retirement. 

Wallston is survived by his wife, Jonatha Gibaud, and two children, Margot Wallston and Joel Atyas. A virtual memorial service will be held Sunday, Dec. 13.

“Ken was always thoughtful, kind, engaged and generous in sharing his wisdom,” Kripalani said. “He enriched countless lives and careers at Vanderbilt.”

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About the Contributor
Thomas Hum
Thomas Hum, Former Managing Editor
Thomas Hum ('23) is from Fort Lee, New Jersey, majoring in economics with a minor in business. He previoulsy served as managing editor, news copy editor as well as a staff writer for the News section. In his free time, he enjoys riding his motorcycle, playing guitar, watching movies and listening to music.    
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