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Jamie Boyd

Jamie Kamailani Boyd today received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award in Baltimore. She is one of 10 individuals across the nation recognized for overcoming significant obstacles and tackling challenging health and health care problems facing their communities.

The award provides $20,000 to the recipient for personal development and another $105,000 to the project with which she is affiliated.

Boyd was recognized for creating the Pathway out of Poverty program at Windward Community College, where she is an assistant professor and health programs coordinator. The program puts disadvantaged students and native Hawaiians on a career path in nursing, helping them advance from nurse’s aides to registered nurses.

A tenacious teen mother

Boyd knows something about overcoming disadvantages. She was in foster care when she became a teen mother. Presented with her baby and sent on her way by the hospital, she realized that there was something wrong with the health care system.

She recalled the art of nursing and value of caring for others demonstrated by her grandmother, a nurse who cared for patients as if they were family members. From her first days as a nurse’s aide at a mental health institution, she spoke out on behalf of patients and their families.

“I was so horrified by the care that was being provided, I thought that if I could come back as a nurse, I could change things,” she said.

She became a nurse practitioner. Working at health center clinics on Maui and Oʻahu, she saw young patients with signs of prediabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and drug addiction.

“I decided that if I got a PhD, I could conduct research and somehow make it all stop,” she said. “I was seeing patients who faced a lifetime of stress. They couldn’t pay the rent, so they had to choose between buying a can of formula or a box of diapers. I saw kids who had horrible rashes because their families couldn’t afford diapers.”

Boyd is believed to be the first Native Hawaiian registered nurse with a PhD, which she earned in 2009 from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

The best medicine

Drawing on her own experience and the Hawaiian value of kuleana—the individual and collective responsibility for the functioning and advancement of society—Boyd works to generate tuition assistance for nurse’s aide students who do not qualify for federal financial aid, and to guide students toward good-paying nursing careers where they can improve their own lives while helping others.

“Dr. Boyd’s Pathway out of Poverty program emphasizes Hawaiian traditions, fosters cultural pride and integrates healthy living education,” said Kathryn Braun, UH Mānoa professor of public health and social work. “It also helps students toward long-term socioeconomic stability.”

Boyd’s goals for the Pathway out of Poverty 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. She trains about 50 nurse’s aides a year. About one in four of the aides pursue their registered nurse degree.

“This is the best medicine I ever practiced,” said Boyd, who continues to work in a clinic one day a week and spends considerable time finding creative ways for students to pay for their schooling. “As a nurse practitioner, I have prescriptive authority, but I have not found a drug that heals the soul like helping another human being.”

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