Building Diverse Relationships

The Honor Society of Nursing embraces diversity in the broadest sense of the word, including diversity in career paths, educational backgrounds, gender, race, geographic borders and culture.

Touching Lives, Creating Opportunities, Seeking Challenges

By Diana Morris and Sandra Hanson

The warm, shy smile and soft voice belie her strength and determination. She is a caring, empathic woman who has not always been met with kindness. May Louise Hinton Wykle grew up when bias was legal. She remembers the stories her great-grandmother and godmother told her about living as slaves on a Maryland plantation. Growing up in Ohio, she experienced typical Northern discrimination and subtle exclusionary practices. She remembers her father saying, "Remember who you are, and that you'll have to work twice as hard to get ahead," and her mother assuring her it was all right if she didn't want to compete.

It wasn't that long ago that this small town girl from Emerson, Ohio was denied entrance to several nursing schools because she was black. It was suggested that applying to the kitchen or housekeeping for work might be more appropriate. In spite of these rejections, she became the first African-American to attend the Ruth Brant School of Nursing in Martins Ferry, Ohio after working a year as a nurse's aide to merit admission. Her professional accomplishments are staggering. Her curriculum vitae is 71 pages long and weighs almost as much as a Sunday newspaper. In May Wykle's case, there is much truth to the adage that to get a project done, ask a busy person. She seems to be everywhere, touching lives worldwide, creating opportunities and seeking challenges.

Dr. Priscilla Ebersole, editor of Geriatric Nursing, says that Dr. Wykle is simply an unquenchable person. She will not be satisfied, always seeking to contribute more to the profession of nursing and create opportunities for all nurses. She has championed students from disadvantaged backgrounds by promoting access to educational opportunities and providing mentorship throughout their careers. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to be mentored by her, we remember important lessons she has taught.

First, we learn by her example that all human beings are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity as they travel on their journeys. Further, Dr. Wykle guides us to gain insight into the meaning of behavior as it gives us understanding of the human experience. As students, mentees and colleagues, we are challenged by her to use those insights in providing exquisite nursing care. She reminds us that there is no finish line in the race for excellence, both professionally and personally.

Camille Warner, a PhD student in sociology, talks about Professor Wykle as a mentor who, for nearly eight years, has promoted and supported her growth and development as a scholar, researcher and educator. Another alumni member and colleague, Dr. Jane Suresky, recently wrote, "She is truly committed to students and to learning. She believes that learning should be fun and that as educators we must constantly search to find ways that help students learn more and teachers teach less."

May L. Wykle, RN, PhD, FAAN, is dean and Florence Cellar professor of nursing at Case Western Reserve University's Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in Cleveland, Ohio. A member of the CWRU faculty since 1969, she is recognized as an expert in mental health of older adults. She began her career at the university as a psychiatric nurse integrator, teaching the emotional aspects of nursing care. Since 1988, she has served as director of the University Center on Aging and Health. Dr. Wykle's research interests include geriatric mental health, family caregiving, minority elders and caregivers, caring for patients with dementia, and the effects of stresses and strains on elderly physical health. Through her research, she has worked to increase knowledge that can be used to guide the care provided to older adults and their families.

Dr. Wykle has pursued her research and initiated educational programs internationally in Europe, Africa and Asia. As a visiting professor at the University of Zimbabwe and as faculty member and consultant, she has been able to influence the development of university-based undergraduate and graduate nursing education. Interacting with health, social service and medical personnel in other countries, she has sensitized other professionals to the role of nurses in health care. A Romanian physician, for example, was influenced by Dr. Wykle to change her thinking about collaborating with nurses in a small-town clinic she directed. She came to appreciate the notion that nurses can assume more autonomy and develop their leadership skills.

Members of the nursing profession as well as colleagues from other disciplines have recognized Dr. Wykle for her career achievements and scholarship. She is a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, the profession's highest honor, and a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. In 1992, the Ohio Research Council on Aging and the Ohio Network of Education Consultants in the Field of Aging named her the Outstanding Researcher in the State of Ohio. In 1999, she received the Humanitarian Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Nursing Profession. She has served as visiting professor at the University of Michigan and The University of Texas at Houston. Most recently, she served a nine-month appointment as the first Pope Eminent Scholar at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Human Development at Georgia Southwestern State University and she continues to serve on the Institute's board of directors. Dr. Jack Nottingham, former director of the Institute, noted that she is the only person he knows of for whom Rosalynn Carter, upon hearing of a reception in Dr. Wykle's honor, changed her schedule to attend. In June, she became the first undergraduate nurse alumnus to receive Case Western Reserve University's Distinguished Alumni Award for career achievement.

Dr. Wykle, recipient of the Geriatric Mental Health Academic Award, given by the National Institute of Mental Health, is the director of a five-year Robert Wood Johnson Teaching Nursing Home Project. Recently, she completed a four-year study funded by the National Institute of Health's National Center for Nursing Research on black vs. white caregivers' formal/informal service use, and a three-year study funded by the National Institute on Aging on MD style, self care and compliance of chronically ill aged. Wykle has been project director of several training grants, including geriatric mental health, home health care initiative, geriatric mental health nursing initiative, and a nursing assistant training program.

Over the years, Dr. Wykle has given back to the community by serving on the boards of numerous community organizations, including nursing home and professional organizations, and as a consultant to many nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals. In addition to serving on the Geriatric/Gerontology Advisory Committee for the Veterans Administration, she has also served on research review committees established by the National Insitute of Nursing Research, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institute on Aging. In 1986, she was asked to participate in a study of the nation's nursing homes that was commissioned by Congress and conducted by the Institute of Medicine. In 1993, she was named to the White House Conference on Aging.

Other honors and awards received by Dr. Wykle include CWRU's 1989 John Diekhoff Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching, Distinguished Alumnus Award from Martins Ferry Hospital, Merit Award from the Cleveland Council of Black Nurses, the 2000 Gerontological Nursing Research Award from the Gerontological Society of America and The John A. Hartford Foundation Institute for Geriatric Nursing, the Belle Sherwin Award for Distinguished Nursing Professional of the Year by the Cleveland Visiting Nurse Association, the Leadership Award for Excellence in Geriatric Care from the Midwest Alliance in Nursing, Distinguished Nurse-Scholar Lecturer at the National Council for Nursing Research and the Nursing Educator Award from New Cleveland Woman magazine. In March 2001, she received the Gerontological Nursing Research Award from the Midwest Nursing Research Society and The John A. Hartford Foundation Institute for Geriatric Nursing and, from the Ohio Nurses Association, The Ethelrine Shaw-Nickerson Award for outstanding contributions to health care services to minority populations in Ohio.

Dr. Wykle has written numerous articles, chapters and books. Five recently edited books are Decision Making in Long-Term Care; Practicing Rehabilitation with Geriatric Clients; Stress and Health Among the Elderly, Family Caregiving Across the Lifespan, and Serving Minority Elders in the 21st Century for which she earned the Book of the Year Award from the American Journal of Nursing in 2000.

She is particularly proud of her work in clinical practice as head nurse, supervisor, clinical specialist and director of nursing education. She worked in the Ohio state psychiatric system as a staff nurse, manager and director of education. Dr. Wykle still has the process recordings she did at workshops done by Dr. Hildegarde Peplau to teach interpersonal skills and therapy to nurses employed by the state system. She will not give them up because the papers contain handwritten comments by Peplau. She particularly cherishes the experience of teaching students to counsel and relate to patients with mental illness.

Wykle also worked part time at the old City Hospital of Cleveland in medical, surgical and pediatric nursing. She was a staff nurse at Forrest City Hospital, a hospital that provided care to African-Americans and positions for African-American health workers at a time of de facto segregation in health care. As head of the education department at Cleveland Psychiatric Institute, May, who by then had obtained a BSN, received NIMH funding for nursing assistant model training. She was becoming a role model and mentor to the many affiliating nursing students from schools throughout the state of Ohio who came to the Institute for their clinical experience and education in psychiatric nursing.

She continued her clinical practice after joining the faculty of the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, and to this day provides consultation to clinical sites, both acute and long-term care. For a period of time she held a joint appointment as chair of psychiatric mental health nursing and director of nursing at Hanna Pavilion, a psychiatric hospital at University Hospitals of Cleveland.
Dr. Wykle obtained all her degrees after she married and while raising two daughters. Following her graduation from Martins Ferry Hospital School of Nursing, she came to Cleveland. She earned her BSN, MSN in psychiatric nursing and PhD in education at Case Western Reserve University. She was clearly a liberated woman long before women's liberation became a catch phrase. She often notes that having a supportive husband was a key to her success. While earning her doctorate, she studied side-by-side with her two daughters.

Residing in Solon, Ohio, with her husband, Bill, she enjoys, in her spare time, the luxuries of family life, entertaining, cooking, growing flowers and collecting miniatures. May and Bill share a commitment to the importance of family and friends. They have two grown daughters, Andra and Caron, and are very doting grandparents to Larry, 17, and 6-year-old Alexis who she refers to as "the gift." Their home has always been open to others. One of them, Joseph, an adolescent who needed the love and support of a family, became their son. Holidays are a special time at her house and all are welcome to be part of the family and to enjoy the company and culinary feast.

May is available to her friends with open arms, a loving heart, a story, a poem, a song and a light touch of humor. She is seldom without a smile and a positive statement. Those who know her think of her as a truly wonderful, generous, thoughtful and energetic person with pearls of wisdom to share. She is a mentor and role model who facilitates growth and encourages self-awareness. After Professor Wykle became dean of the nursing school at CWRU, the alumni assistant director received a note stating, "Please extend my most sincere best wishes to Dean Wykle for happiness and success in her tenure. When I was a student at Frances Payne Bolton, May Wykle was a name spoken with the utmost respect and, even awe! Our school is in great hands" (Judy Noll Pearson, '73).

A member of Alpha Mu chapter at Case Western Reserve University and former chapter president, Dr. Wykle received the Elizabeth Russell Belford Award for Excellence in Education from Sigma Theta Tau International in 1995. As she assumes the presidency of the Honor Society of Nursing, her expertise and vision for nursing and healthcare will embrace the global arena. As dean of Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, she often states, "Our young people need to realize that nursing is an excellent profession and that it will allow for a wide range of professional opportunities." She believes that the achievement of quality health care for all persons worldwide will be obtained through investment in our relationships within nursing, among colleagues of various disciplines, and most importantly, through interactions with the diverse populations we serve.

The society's focus on scientific and clinical scholarship, together with professional leadership, will be the foundation for creating meaningful and productive relationships and interactions that celebrate our diversity and the commonplaces of our human experience. President Wykle is the right person at the right time to lead the society as we address issues for the profession and health care in the new millennium. For ultimately, her greatest asset may be her appreciation of and sensitivity to the human experience, for she is the most 'human' of beings I have known.

This article originally appeared in the first quarter 2002 issue of Reflections on Nursing Leadership.