Alumna from First Kent State Nursing Class Reflects on 43-year Career

When Roxia Boykin, MPA, RN, NEA-BC, CDM, CDE, thinks about her 43-year nursing career, she recalls her humble beginnings. “I come from a family of seven children. My parents worked very hard, often at two jobs, to provide the bare necessities, like making sure we each had 25 cents for school lunch every day,” she said. “I never could have planned or imagined where my career would take me. I was fortunate to be in the right places at the right times in terms of change and growth within the profession. I worked alongside individuals who thought I could do the job, even when I wasn’t certain myself. As a result, I was blessed with wonderful mentors and a truly diversified nursing career.”

A resident of Franklin, PA, Roxia first came to Ohio as a newly accepted student at St. Luke's Hospital School of Nursing in Cleveland where she planned to earn her diploma in nursing. However, a required visit for a pre-college conference to Kent State University, where her basic science courses would be completed, drastically changed her academic journey. Shortly before Roxia and her fellow diploma nursing students arrived at Kent State, the Ohio Board of Regents approved the establishment of the first Bachelor of Nursing (BSN) program at Kent State University. As a result of the newly approved four-year program, Mount Sinai Hospital and St. Luke's Hospital would close their nursing diploma programs and become clinical rotation sites for Kent State. The students who had been accepted into the last classes at each hospital were given a choice between completing the diploma program or joining the inaugural Kent State University BSN class. While the details surrounding how Roxia and her parents made the decision for her to attend Kent State are hazy, she is glad Linnea E. Henderson, Ed.D., MA, BSN, the first Dean of Kent State University College of Nursing, recruited her to be a student. “Had Dean Henderson not actively recruited me through financial aid and other critical support, I would have earned my diploma in nursing, which wouldn’t have been a terrible thing,” said Roxia. “But she knew the value of a bachelor's education and that it was the best thing not only for me, but for the nursing profession as a whole. Her foresight and conviction in addressing mine and my parents’ concerns, propelled me into this program. Dean Henderson was truly a woman before her time.”

As a child, Roxia helped care for her grandparents and that sparked an interest in nursing. “I remember always wanting to be a nurse. Back then, the opportunities available for women, regardless of race or ethnicity, were fairly limited. You either became a nurse or a teacher. We didn’t have many other options and I knew I didn’t want to teach.” A first-generation college student, Roxia had her family’s love, support and high expectation for success, but was unable to receive their financial assistance. “My parents wanted my siblings and I to do things they didn’t have the means or opportunities to do,” she said. “I applied for grants and loans to supplement the scholarships I had been awarded. Additionally, I worked my way through school.”

During the last quarter of her junior year, tragedy struck the university. On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University students and demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine. Roxia recalled she was scheduled to take an exam that morning, but somehow received communication that advised her and her fellow students to remain in their dorms. Following the devastating incident, campus was closed, and students were sent home. “The nursing program was designed in such a way that if you didn't meet the prerequisites and follow the requirements quarter by quarter, you weren't going to be able to graduate on time,” Roxia said. “The nursing faculty knew how crucial it was for us as the first nursing class to finish the quarter and move into our senior year, so they did everything possible to make sure we were successful. Some faculty held classes in their homes, while others held class at the local park or allowed us to finish the coursework through mail-in essays.”

Following graduation, Roxia worked on a medical surgical floor. She was quickly promoted to head nurse in medicine, followed by head nurse of a surgical step-down unit before accepting the role of oncology nurse coordinator at St. Luke’s Hospital. It wasn’t long until oncology became her favorite specialty, in part due to the relationships she developed with the patients and families, but also because of the opportunities for learning and teamwork. “Patients would ask for me specifically when they needed an IV put in for chemotherapy or to draw blood,” she said. “I had the pleasure of working with great caregivers and knowing I had made a difference, even if the outcome wasn’t what we had hoped for, was all that mattered at the end of the day.”

Roxia ended her career at Summa Health System as Vice President, Community Benefit and Diversity, a new role for the health system, a role outside of nursing and direct patient care. The CEO of the hospital approached Roxia about the role, believing her previous roles and experiences made her the perfect fit. After much back and forth and two outright rejections to the offer, Roxia accepted the role. “Once again, it was clear to me that this individual saw something in me that I did not. Accepting the position turned out to be a great decision as I was able to build the department from the ground up and focus on issues of critical concern, such as diversity and inclusion, cultural competence, health and health care disparities, and community benefit,” she said. “We made dramatic strides and were recognized with a number of awards as an organization with significant expertise in these areas. I was also engaged in the community in which I lived in a way that I had never been before, and developed relationships I never would have had the opportunity to cultivate otherwise.”

Looking back, Roxia has observed the nursing profession change. She recalled going on rounds with a physician and taking part in the discussion and care planning with the patient and family. “I was so lucky to grow as a nurse during that time.” Roxia also remembered the limited number of specialty certified nurses who worked in hospitals in the mid to late 1970’s. “If you were delivering direct patient care, you were a diploma prepared, associate degree prepared or a bachelor’s prepared registered nurse. If you wanted to go into academia you had a master’s degree.” Additionally, nurses have since earned significant respect for their profession. “People used to view nursing as a job and not a professional career in which individuals could grow and advance,” said Roxia. “But things have changed and are still changing! In healthcare administrations, the contributions of individuals with nursing backgrounds are valued.”

Throughout her nursing career, Roxia was mentored and encouraged by exemplary leaders, beginning with her Kent State clinical faculty, P. Joan Dashield from St. Luke’s Hospital and Dorothy E. Bradford from Mount Sinai Hospital. “As nurses who happened to be African American, I believe they wanted to see me do well and I wanted to do well for them.” Carol Randall, the former director of nursing at St. Luke's Hospital, taught Roxia to approach management with a team focus, valuing the contributions of all. “Through example, Carol showed me organizations only accomplish their goals as a unified group of departments.”

Today, Roxia enjoys her work with nonprofit organizations. She is currently serving on the Diversity Advisory Board at Kent State University, on the AxessPointe Community Health Centers Board, a Federally Qualified Health Center with five locations in northeast Ohio, on the University Hospitals Portage Medical Center Foundation Board and many others. Previously, she also served on the American Heart Association Board. Roxia’s work with these boards has allowed her to sit on various minority task force committees, which research methods of engaging with minority individuals and populations and developing ways in which to inspire these individuals. “This isn’t just a problem in the practice of nursing. If you look at diversity in the healthcare profession as a whole, people of diverse ethnicity are not represented. There aren't many role models for these children,” said Roxia, who recognizes without access to the children, inspiration can’t take hold. “We need to create environments where minority students can see individuals making a difference in their communities. We need to show them nursing is a wonderful career where they can earn more than a living wage and will have opportunities for advancement. Students may not know there are other paths and options within the field of nursing outside of working at the bedside.”

Roxia knows that it will take the community working diligently together as a whole to continue to address the lack of diversity within the nursing profession, but she hopes her story will inspire others.

“Be committed to your studies. You have to put the work in to reap the benefits. There may be additional obstacles that make it harder for diverse students to succeed and matriculate, but don’t let that be an excuse,” said Roxia. “Somedays it will be a challenge but see it as a challenge you are going to overcome.”

POSTED: Monday, April 13, 2020 - 3:03pm
UPDATED: Monday, April 13, 2020 - 3:03pm
Mariah Gibbons