When it comes to giving back, Chamberlain University President Karen Cox, PhD, RN, FACHE, FAAN, is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get the work done. In her 20s, she volunteered to provide care and services to people affected with HIV – at a time when many backed away because little was known about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection.
But Karen Stepped Forward. “I wasn’t afraid. I got the sense that scientifically, it wasn’t spread casually so I wanted to help them,” she recalled about her volunteer work with the Good Samaritan project in Kansas City. “There was a funeral every week. It was traumatic for all involved – caregivers, family members and partners. And it was interesting to see how people looked at me differently because they knew I was doing that work and they didn’t want to get too close to me. It made an impact. It helped me put things in perspective. And still, to this day, it was that work that has made the most difference in my life and what I am most proud of… I helped those individuals but really, they helped me too.”
Finding Her Stride
Ever since childhood, Karen knew she wanted to be a nurse and to help others. She started diving into books especially those about Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale – two legends in the world of nursing, and it seemed she had found her calling. But there was something missing. That is until she met a certain history teacher in middle school. “He gave me confidence,” Karen recalls. “He saw abilities that I didn’t know or think I had. He just assumed that I would do well in whatever I was working on… and eventually I did."
Pounding the pavement since she turned 18, Karen has spent countless hours working in the healthcare field and volunteering for several organizations. For two charities in particular – the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality – she served as the first nurse to sit on the board before being elected as the chairperson. Recently, she completed her two-year term as president of the American Academy of Nursing. Karen has gone from working in a burn unit early in her career to present-day community outreach to ensure everyone has a voice. And then she moved on to something a little more personal – adding an important member to the family.
“I rescue greyhounds,” says the proud mama of Lexi, the fourth rescue for Karen and husband Randy whom she met through work years ago. They have long supported a local nonprofit called Retired Greyhounds as Pets (REGAP), which provides loving homes for animals that have been injured or have retired from racing.
Honoring Others, Staying Humble
Like REGAP, Karen does her best to reach out to those who may get lost in the shuffle. In fact, just last month during the holidays, she took time to thank the behind-the-scenes workers at the airports through a letter-to-the-editor in her hometown newspaper – to “the people who work tirelessly to help things run smoothly… the crews of people who clean and stock airplanes, ground crews who help load and unload luggage in the most inclement weather and unforgiving conditions, and those who work at airports across the country cleaning restrooms and terminals as millions of travelers move through them daily. To those of you doing the jobs that help us do our jobs, thank you.”
Karen credits her parents for instilling solid morals and values at an early age. “I got my people skills – the notion that no one was more important from anyone else – from my mother. And that I could do anything I set my mind to,” she recalls fondly. “From my father – that everything you do should be of high quality. It’s who I’ve become… who I try to be.”
And where did she learn the attributes practiced through Chamberlain Care? “It evolved. In each role I’ve had, regardless of the job, I’ve gained additional insight and it’s become who I am. A vision is built by experiences with other people and learning from them.”
One such mentor for Karen over the last decade has been Bernardine Lacey, who will speak next month at the Tysons Corner campus to celebrate Black History Month. Named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing, Bernardine went against the grain of what was ‘allowed’ 50 years ago to make a difference. “I am a big believer in learning from people who are older and wiser than you,” Karen says. “They often get dismissed but there is so much to learn and observe from them if you just take the time.”
Work Hard, Play Hard
Time is not something that is abundant in Karen’s life. So when asked what she does for fun, she circled back to current times. “Being part of professional organizations and publishing articles – to me, that’s my version of a hobby because I enjoy doing it.”
But, upon further questioning, there is a moment when this Kansas City native steps outside of academia and admits, “I exercise but not because it’s great fun; I do it because it makes me feel better.” She confesses to spending happy moments with her family and dreaming about vacations near the beach. And then, with a little more prodding, she gives a slight giggle and boasts – “Ok. I’m a Kansas City Chiefs fan but I don’t like the mascot. I enjoy football and I love watching college basketball – the University of Kansas Jayhawks.”
Good luck to Karen’s favorite football team this weekend.
- Cookie or Cake? Potato chips
- Pancakes or Waffles? Both; loves eggs
- Library or Museum? Library
- Coffee or Tea? Coffee
- Summer of Winter? Winter
- International or Domestic Travel? International – "Turks and Caicos Islands is the most beautiful place; the water is so clear and the people are so gracious”
By Heather L Hurtado
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