Nurse Helps Disadvantaged Hawaiians Overcome Poverty and Become Nurses

Former foster child and teen single mother creates a community college program to put disadvantaged Hawaiians on a career path to become nurses.

    • November 8, 2011

Jamie Kamailani Boyd learned the art of nursing from her late grandmother, a nurse who raised Boyd when she was a young girl. When her grandmother died, Boyd was sent to a foster care program; eventually, she became a teenage single mother. The hospital's response was to "put the baby in my arms and send me on my way," Boyd recalled. That is when she realized something was wrong with the health care system.

Boyd decided to tackle those problems just as her grandmother had. She became a nurse's aide at a mental health institution and was horrified by what she saw. "I thought that if I could come back as a nurse, I could change things," Boyd said.

And that she did—many times over. She became a nurse practitioner at health center clinics in Maui and Oahu, earned her doctorate in nursing, became a professor and created the Pathway out of Poverty program at Windward Community College. Based on a philosophy grounded in the Hawaiian value of kuleana—the individual and collective responsibility for the functioning and advancement of society—the program puts disadvantaged students and native Hawaiians on a career path in nursing, helping them advance from nurse's aides to registered nurses.

Her goals for the program are to reduce poverty, increase representation of native Hawaiians in nursing, and improve the quality of nursing care by training more empathetic and culturally competent providers. Today, Boyd trains about 50 nurse's aides a year, approximately one-quarter of whom go on to pursue an RN degree. "This is the best medicine I ever practiced," said Boyd.

For developing an approach to breaking the cycle of poverty and improving the quality of nursing care, Boyd has been named one of 10 recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Community Health Leaders Award. The award honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities. Boyd received the award during a ceremony in Baltimore, Md., on November 9.

"Dr. Jamie Kamailani Boyd's Pathway out of Poverty program emphasizes Hawaiian traditions, fosters cultural pride, and integrates healthy living education," said Kathryn L. Braun, DrPH, professor of public health and social work, University of Hawaii. "It also helps students toward long-term socioeconomic stability, through a training pathway from nurse's aide to licensed practical nurse to registered nurse—a pathway Jamie developed based on her own experience as a single mother who worked herself up from a nurse's aide to nurse practitioner and now professor."

Most Requested